Cry Club aren’t afraid to look you in the eye and be real

Image by Giulia McGauran.

Make no mistake, Cry Club aren’t afraid to address uncomfortable issues, proudly fight for inclusive and diverse spaces, or simply stare down the barrel of the gun and straight into your eyes.

Take a recent example: the larger-than-life pop duo were living it up on stage at Melbourne’s CHANGES festival earlier this year when vocalist Heather Riley hopped into the mosh, blurring the lines between stage and audience. It was here they noticed two “industry industry people” having a big ol’ chat right there, smack bang in the middle of the set. Never one to shy away, the performer dazzled their way straight up to the pair and gave them the show of a lifetime.

50% glitter, 50% earnest and 100% relentless – Cry Club captivate audiences with their dynamic, almost OTT, stage presence and equally powerful stance on cutting the bullshit from the music industry. From early beginnings with a bunch of local acts (for guitarist Jonathan “Jono” Tooke, at least) to their current cult status, this is an act with a serious community backing and worlds of experience in the arts behind them.

Their explosive first single ‘Walk Away’ introduced the duo as a force to be reckoned with, uniting a fuzzy wall of sound with Riley’s squeal of “walking out the DOOR,” a moment that sores and tears open the ceiling with each play. Defined by all things outrageously glam, the pair then transferred that energy into an empowering, socially conscious follow up, ‘DFTM,’ before flaunting a softer side in ‘Two Hearts.’

Matching printed suits, in-your-face crowd interaction and very literal, physical interpretations of lyrics are just a few of Cry Club’s hallmark traits. As the embodiment of organised chaos, they provide head- turning moments of grandeur right next to impeccably tight guitar lines, even opting to add in a drummer for this run of shows. If there was one act at BIGSOUND that stole the spotlight, it was Cry Club.

During their second stint at BIGSOUND a few weeks ago (a luxury considering most acts are only asked to play once), the noise-pop angels sat down to talk about reclaiming power at gigs, how to weed out the bad people, and the influence of My Chemical Romance.

One thing I’ve noticed in Australia’s music scene is that it’s a case of being only as strong as each other, especially in smaller DIY communities, and Cry Club has always seemed to exist in this world of give and take with the friends around you. How did this start?

Jono: My classic thing I always say is, I’m always happy to help. I take a lot of phone calls from people looking for advice!

Heather: Mostly the Laundry Echo group on Facebook. It’s DIY punk bands and we were very involved in that. Jack R. Reilly was one of the first people I met and [from there] everyone was so nice and wanting to help each other out. We couldn’t have gotten anywhere without the help of those people who gave us the initial leg up.

What forms the foundation of a solid community in the music industry?

Jono: It’s one of those classic ‘we’re all in this together’ things, where a high tide raises all ships. If one of us is doing well then the rest does to, and not in a selfish we have to treat other people well and then we’ll do well way, it’s more just what’s the point of doing this if we’re not involved with doing this with friends and all that sort of stuff.

Heather: And if you get the opportunity to perform at a bigger venue, it’s like fuck yeah, you get to bring another band with you! I saw this band Slush open for Moaning Lisa in Melbourne and was like fuck they’re cool, so we brought them on our ‘DFTM’ tour, and it was their first interstate shows. It’s just a big circle, the industry is so connected, and it feels so good to be able to give people what they deserve. You want the good people to do well. When you’re in a good crowd and the good crowd do well, it means all the shit people have less of a chance to do well.

Jono: At this point, there’s a pretty deep-set anger towards how shit some people have and continue to be, so we’re just like alright, [let’s] clear the house and make sure the we support people who are good, as much as we can. We essentially want to flush out all the bad people with good people.

So, it’s an active choice to do as much as you can within your power to make sure the good people rise to the top?

Jono: Yep, been around long enough to see all this shit go down.

Heather: I’m very new, this is my first band and I didn’t even know what BIGSOUND was last year when we first applied (now it’s like my favourite thing in the whole world) so [I came] into this being very naïve but also being like we don’t have to work with shit people, let’s just do things with the people we want to do things with and make every choice deliberately, to create a better space. I feel like I’m not jaded like some people.

This project has had one of the ‘quickest rises to fame,’ (to borrow a cliché term) from first starting out to having a pretty immediate following. Do you remember the first time you thought wow, people are ‘fans’ of us, this it it?

Jono: The moment I knew it was the real deal was the very first song we had [‘Walk Away’], we just went done, this is it! I was very immediate, and there were lots of times where the dots did connect: I think us getting announced for BIGSOUND last year, there were people I knew who were like, what the hell, you have a new [band]?! That was pretty great.

Heather: For me, when we did the ‘DFTM’ single tour, there were shows where people I’ve never met before were singing along. We did a show recently in Thredbo with Holy Holy, outdoors in the snow, at night, but there was someone in the front row who was singing along to ‘Two Hearts’and ‘DFTM’ word for word and they came up to me afterwards and said ‘oh hey, I’ve heard you on triple j and didn’t know it was you!’ Also getting a triple j add was pretty crazy.

Jono: For as much as it seems quick, it doesn’t feel quick from our end because of the amount of work we put in each day. If anything, it feels slow, and that’s not to dismiss or take any of this for granted at all!

So, it’s more the pay-off is long in comparison to all the demos I’m assuming you have hidden away from hours of writing and producing?

Jono: Yeah, we’ve only released three songs, but my demo folder is quite large at the moment, so there’s a lot of effort going into things and it’s not immediately visible, but people are starting to connect with what we’re collecting.

That’s definitely one of the roughest sides of the industry – the eternal grind of being no one until you’re someone, and the idea of ‘making it.’

Jono: A big thing is setting those goals of what ‘making it’ is, it’s different for every person. For me, it’s playing the shows. We have a very exclusive goal of everything that’s not the show is flowing towards a show.

Heather: And it’s different for everyone! We have friends in bands who are like we want to release really cohesive collections of music, have a very specific idea of the band, and are very album/release focused and for them it’s like if we do festivals, that’s the bonus. For us, festivals and gigs are what we want to be doing, and the music is a vehicle for that as well. Jono is so good at writing music, but I don’t first consider myself a songwriter, I’m more of a performer or a performing artist.

Well, that reminds me of something I noticed during your show last night – Heather, you perform the lyrics quite literally and physically act them out at some points. Where does this theatricality come from?

Heather: I have a Bachelor’s degree in acting and I grew up in musical theatre. I dead set was going to be a musical theatre performer, everything I did in high school was all focused around that. I even did this talent development project with a musical theatre stream and it was all heading towards that, then I didn’t get into any of the good schools! I was like fuck it, I’ll just go to Wollongong and do acting, fuck music. Then I met Jono and… the rest is history.

How do you define Cry Club when it comes to the image of the band, for example your outfits for shows and iconic press shots, like the most recent lovestruck one with Giulia McGuaran?

Heather: Melodramatic, and not self-consciously melodramatic.

Jono: I think there’s the pretty deep inspiration of bands like My Chemical Romance

Heather: And The 1975.

Jono: The visual presence is, not as strong as the music but close.

Heather: Well, when you think of My Chemical Romance you think of ‘Welcome To The Black Parade’ and you think of the white hair that Gerard [Way] had and the jacket, it was very specific. I think there was a period of time where everyone wanted to be that, and then it faded into let’s just be real, but I like to live in a fantasy world. Making music is a good opportunity to bring this little fantasy world to life. You can feel safe and dance, it’s cathartic, and we get to wear fun suits and be whatever we want to be for 20 minutes to an hour.

Jono: I think a big thing for us is we just want to have fun. Some of our songs have some pretty serious topics but even within that we want to make it a fun thing for people, so they want to come to the show. I want it to be like, oh you chose to come see Cry Club because of their fun live show.

How do you find that balance then for wanting to have fun live shows but having songs with serious matters, like ‘DFTM,’ which talks about harassment and non-consensual touching at shows?

Jono: I think just giving the opportunity for a crowd engagement moment because the unfortunate truth is anytime we play this song, a good majority of the crowd is going to be able to relate to it. So, it can be the thing that we all come together on and it can be the big, noisy exhale.

Heather: It’s a unifying thing. It’s that idea of not being alone in something. It’s shitty that this happens, and you can feel powerless, but this is an absolute space to have power and feel seen and heard – I think that’s why it becomes fun.

So, it’s a reclamation of power?

Heather: Yeah! I think it’s important to be able to talk about it and then be able to not just stop at this bad thing happened; it’s more this thing happened, and we’ll get past it. It’s the idea of this huge forward momentum, after you walk out the door.

What can people expect from a live show of yours that’s uniquely Cry Club?

Heather: Something over-the-top and just not being afraid to look people in the eye and get real with them too. We’re just going to come and be us – you’re not going to get this polite version of us. We’re going to be just as colourful, if not more, and love it and bring you in.

Catch the enigma that is Cry Club when they play a string of festivals later this year, including Loch Hart, Lost Paradise and NYE On The Hill.