At Bigsound we caught up with Daniel Cunningham of Sydney based punk band ARSE. They’ve recently teamed up with Party Dozen to put out a Split 7” Power Tripper. It’s a release that knocks you square in the gut, the recording filled with as much raw energy as their live set.
You’ve been smashing out showcases this week. how’s your bigsound experience been?
Yeah, the shows were kinda really surprising. Obviously you come to Bigsound without any lofty expectations. We just played two really great shows, and they were packed… Which was really cool. The Zoo was a great venue, which was mad.
We just put out a split with our friends in Sydney called Party Dozen. So, two new tracks with each band, and then a collaboration track. We got to play that last night for the first time with Kirsty from Party Dozen. And it was fucking wicked, it was so cool. Cos we’ve never done it before. We’d practiced on Monday, but it’s not the same as playing it.
The shows were the highlights, we love to play so it was really special.
How did that collaboration with Party Dozen come about… Had you been friends for a while before deciding to put music out together?
Geez, where do you start with that?
So, John, who plays bass in ARSE, he’s a very talented drummer and plays bass with Party Dozen. I’ve known John since high-school, and we’ve had a bunch of bands together since then.
And then Kirsty, she’s originally From Brisbane. In one of our old bands we played up in Brisbane a couple of years ago, and met them there. She moved down to Sydney and now she’s one of my best friends.
We’ve been in bands together, we’ve been in bands separately, and even outside of all the music, outside of all that stuff, we are together. We live down the road from each other and we are just best friends, trying to have fun. That’s how we hang out, we just write and play music. It sounds really rosy and stuff, but it’s true!
We put everything out ourselves on our own label called Grupo. Party Dozen and ARSE are all coming out under that name.
Your vocal delivery is reminiscent of Brad Fry’s from American group Pissed Jeans. in terms of your vocal style or even more broadly as musicians, who are some influences that have guided you to make this style of intense, raw punk?
Pissed Jeans, what a fucking tremendous band. They’re one of the best. I wouldn’t say I thought of him specifically or that band specifically when writing music.
We like a lot of the old stuff. Me and Jono are massive Black Flag fans. Kinda where it all started really… we love Henry Rollins. Ian Mackaye is one of my heroes. He’s a guy that played a niche, underground style of music and actually made a living out of it – and did it his way, which is very inspiring to us. We love that era of music.
We went and saw Guy Picciotto (the other half of Fugazi) speak at Vivid earlier this year and that was massive for us, seeing him in person. It’s fucking amazing. That’s where we kinda come from, that spirit.
But apart from that… Influences – we love Iggy. I’d say for me, we really draw on those first few Iggy pop solo records Idiot and Lust For Love.
Ceremony are a modern American, punk band where every album kind of evolves. We like that. I think the next thing that we do will be a lot different than this first bit of music.
Your EP Primitive Species was recorded on analog tape. What was it that drew you to analog over digital? was Shit Future also recorded the same way?
When we put out the EP we kinda talked about how we wanted to do it. We just wanted it to sound classic, I guess, and tape is sort of the way to do that. So we borrowed a friends tape and machine tracked everything to tape at that point.
When we did ‘Shit Future’ we didn’t have access to that machine, it was at another studio so we didn’t use it. So that was digital.
Whatever we do next I think we’d do tape again. Shit Future was just recorded a bit spread out, whereas we did the EP all together.
Can you share with us the story behind Primitive Species getting a re-issue in Europe through the German based ETT records?
That was crazy, we just got an email shortly after we put the EP out, which was the end of last year. We were just doing a cassette, that was the plan, just to put out a cassette as the first thing and see what happens.
Everything was on Bandcamp and we got an email from this guy, Thomas. I don’t know how he heard our music… And he was just like “I’m in, I love this. I want to put this out in Europe for you guys”… And he told us “I’m with you guys from now on. Whatever you put out, I’m gonna put out”. He even asked us if we wanted to put it out on 12”, or 7”. Whatever we wanted to do.
The decision was that he’d press a 12” and also send copies for us to sell in Australia. He’s a real sweet guy and I’ve only ever corresponded to him over email. He’s a friend to us. He loves punk, he’s put out a lot of Australian bands, a lot of American bands. And we’ve had a lot of exposure, but he’s a friend on the other side of the world. We owe him a lot.
Your drum kit set up is really interesting and lends itself to the rawness of your live performance. Tell us a bit about why you’ve chosen to go with just the kick, snare and a couple of cymbals. Have you ruled out using any extra additions to the kit for ARSE in the future?
I’m glad you noticed. That was a very deliberate choice in the beginning of the band.
We’ve done punk bands before, and you know, it’s a limited style because it’s really easy to sound like every other punk band. So, we decided if we were going to do a punk band we wanted to try and find ways to make it as different as possible, from a songwriting perspective. We thought if we stripped the drumkit back to the elements, then that immediately creates a situation where we have to make certain choices.
We wanted to emulate a bit of a drum machine experience, and Tim, our drummer is a like a drum machine, he’s like an athlete, it’s crazy. And also… If he’s gotta hit a kick and a snare, he has to hit those two things as hard as he fucking can. He’s not distracted by other pieces on the kit. Sometimes you have to simplify things to get more creative.
Completely, that’s why we are a three piece as well. We didn’t wanna have a band where there were one or two other people to try and fit into an arrangement. All you need is a guitar, bass, drums and vocals. When we play shows, we can play in any situation, and it’s easy. We just show up. Seriously, every show we’ve played since we’ve started, we talk to a soundie… they ask us what the setup is, and they’re just like “thank you”. The guys at The Zoo were our mates after two nights playing there. They were just like ‘thank you guys so much for making it so easy”. It’s easy to mix. It’s no fuss. We thought of all this stuff before we started the band.
How do you navigate the social media and online world with a band name like ARSE?
Social media has been okay. To be honest, at Bigsound the name has been the biggest gift because in every situation where we’ve had to tell somebody what our band name is (like when we are picking up artists passes and things like that) everybody is just like immediately recognises the name.
And everyone’s wondering if it’s a joke. Of course it’s a joke. We’re not serious people, we play sort of serious music but we’re not serious people. It was crazy too, cos when we were trying to think of a name that was one word, that name wasn’t taken
What can we look forward to from ARSE in the future… Will you be harnessing the momentum from Bigsound to bring us some more new music later on this year?
Hopefully before the end of the year we’ll have a full length or something written. As soon as I get home we’ll start putting things together. We’ve got a couple of big shows coming up that haven’t been announced. We’ll just keep on rolling and taking it as it comes.