Fan Girl: Strength in community

The quiet resilience of Fan Girl is truly inspiring.

In May 2018, the band had just released their debut album Elephant Room, built a studio and commenced a national tour. The excitement was palpable and the future optimistic.

Then everything went on hold.

Founding member, key creative brain and beloved friend Jack Wood had passed away. A tight knit friendship group was plunged into grief and uncertainty.

The last 18 months have seen the band regrouping and taking solace in community. It’s been an incremental process inspired by the memory and legacy of Jack. A few weeks ago marked their first release in some time – the short, sharp and utterly excellent ‘Fox Song’.

Every day, lead guitarist Vince McIntyre and frontman Noah Harris continue to build on songs written with Jack. On stage bassist Dom Buckham, guitarist Luke Thomas and drummer Krish Soorkia all help translate the tracks live.

Fan Girl meet, rehearse and mix at Taste Police. A studio in the heart of Brunswick, there’s a textile factory next door and A1 Bakery right down the road. It’s an enduring name and concept for a space that many now occupy.

Vince: Taste Police is something Jack and I came up with in 2014 when we were starting to track demos for the first record. We were doing it in my house, in my basement. Which was very small. It was great, but Dom (6’7ʺ) couldn’t stand upright.

We liked the idea of having a name for the physical place – whatever, or wherever it was. As we started tracking that record, I found myself working in a studio and also doing sessions with other people. Using whatever I could, in whatever time I had, in whatever space I could. It ended up being this long list of places. We just thought it would be easier to say that was recorded at ‘Taste Police HQ’ instead of being like, “The maracas were recorded in this stairwell.” Because it was going to be a pain in the arse. We also liked the idea of centralising it, because the idea and concept behind that record was so centralised.

What started as the spiritual home of Fan Girl has since become a physical base for a whole musical community.

In mid 2017 Vince and Jack teamed up with Jordi Edwards – someone Vince got to know while studying music at RMIT. Previously one half of local duo Parks Department, he’s now someone you’ll see on lights or front of house all around Melbourne. Having played in bands alongside Tom Dowling since high school, it made sense for the Rat!Hammock guitarist to join the collective.

Vince: We bought a desk very prematurely – about four months before we had a space. Tom had that in his back room for ages. Once we eventually found a space, I kind of commandeered it and called it Taste Police. About a month in I actually asked everyone.

Noah: But now it’s something else. After Jack died, the boys were like, “What do we do financially?” Because it’s…

Vince: Not cheap. It’s actually a decent financial investment that was fucking the four of us up.

Noah: Particularly because we weren’t actually using it as much as we’d planned to. At least initially, until we found stuff to use it for.

Vince: A big portion of the reason we got the studio (Jack and I – and that was one half of the lease) was to do the Fan Girl thing. So that was always the plan.

After Jack passed, fellow Fan Girl members Noah and Dom joined the lease. With the financial impact split across five individuals, all with plenty of bands and projects on the go, Taste Police was secure and open to a whole new community.

Vince: It’s a space where lots of bands record and rehearse – which includes Fan Girl, Rat!Hammock, Porpoise Spit, Merpire, primetime and sometimes Feelds. Jordi has every other electro folk band in there, every other week. It’s been really cool to watch it go from me and Jack in my basement to this physical location where people meet, make music and feel safe, accepted and comfortable.

The studio environment can be a really gross environment. I’m in a privileged position where I grew up working at studios. But we’ve got friends from all walks of life who have had a really shit studio experience with douchebag producers who think they know it all or with weird school competitions.

Noah: It can really stuff you up if that’s your first time recording. A lot of people are really jaded in the music industry. I remember going to studios and 50 year old men would be really rude to you because they’re fucking over it.

Vince: It’s not a good environment for people to do anything fun, creative or inspired. Most of the time it’s like, “Wow, we managed to get $500 together, that’s afforded us one day in the studio with a guy that does not want to be here with us at all.” Taste Police might not be the fanciest studio in Melbourne, but I genuinely think it’s the most comfortable and welcoming and while kinda gross, it’s a really homely recording environment.

Noah: It gets messy quickly. We actually try and clean it as much as possible. And then it just gets messy again.

Vince: But it’s functional.

Vince and Noah at Taste Police.

But Taste Police is more than just a studio. It’s a meeting place for like minds. It is the central point for a whole group of people– even if that wasn’t the original intention. It goes to show that, given the right environment, communities form themselves.

Vince: There was the initial group of people – we’re all busy, have our own projects, are ambitious and whatever else – but as more people from the outer circle started to come in and find this space that they hopefully liked – or at least continue coming back to, it’s kind of blossomed out into this other thing. It’s something that I naively never thought of when we were starting it up. Partially because my concept of the studio was either playing on someone else’s record to crazy budget and crazy time restrictions or doing it myself at home. So most of the time it was a really solitude based thing. I was always the one doing it. So I guess my vision of the studio was skewed in my own way because that was always somewhere I spent a lot of time alone, not that I wanted that, but that was my predisposed idea of it.

Noah: But also, you can’t curate a community on purpose. Of course we didn’t imagine that would happen. They’re more talented than us and they play on our stuff and make us look good (laughs).

Vince: While we might be slightly less musically bound than some other communities in Melbourne, I think it’s as strong, if not stronger, just because of the diversity of people and diversity of music and talent. It’s really inspiring.

Noah: None of those bands in the community sound the same.

Vince: I mean we all play guitars and short songs. But so does everyone else in Melbourne, right?

When Jack passed away, it was the people that surrounded Taste Police who proved to be invaluable.

Vince: I think the community really formed after Jack passed. Mainly because of the timing. When we got the studio, Fan Girl were in the throes of album launch and Rat!Hammock were doing stuff. We had the studio for a couple of months before we really got to set it up and feel at home – then Jack passed away. Around the same time, Tom and I started working on Porpoise Spit, then a couple of months later we did the primetime and [King] Cnut stuff. We found ourselves at gigs with that crew and started getting to know them a lot better.

Noah: Everyone was genuinely supportive. For a while we didn’t know or think that we were going to do it ever again. There was definitely a point for me where Rat!hammock, Porpoise Spit and all these bands were doing really well. We were going to their gigs every weekend and they were getting better and better.

I remember thinking, “I really want to do this again.” It was also a push from the community to not get left behind – to be like, “I want to keep doing this with everyone else.”

Vince: Everyone has been amazingly supportive. It was a totally internal thing, but having people do that and do it really well– to be ambitious, play these great gigs and be writing this amazing music, to have outside sources turn around and pat them on the back, that was an inspiration enough for me to eventually be like, “I want to do this again, I feel like it’s at least in our reach to do it again.” There were a couple of months where I wasn’t sure the band would be a thing again. More than a couple of months, more like six months.

Krish, Dom, Vince, Jack, Luke and Noah.

In Noah’s words, “these feelings are still pretty recent.” Earlier this year things started to shift. Gigs only few months ago became milestones in experience and attitude.

Vince: The gig with Rat!Hammock in June was where some things kind of shifted a bit. It was a turning point for me. In the same way that after the Headspace gig was a turning point. For ages it was just like, “Do I want to do this anymore? Do I want to even make music?”

Jack was my best friend and he was such an important and heavily involved person in everything I did. Starting up the studio, Fan Girl, as well as any other bands I was in. So it was just a bit like, fuck. We’ve signed this three year lease for the studio and we’ve got this band that’s stopped mid air. I’ve got all this fucking music gear – do I want to do this anymore? Is this for me? Do I have any energy to do anything more than just casually play guitar? I didn’t play guitar for probably two months and then primetime came along. That was this really great thing of “We’re going to write songs in half an hour and be really stupid and be really anti-Fan Girl. We’re not going to rehearse and we’re not going to think about this.”

The very first primetime gig was in January this year. The songs weren’t finished and lead singer Lewis Matte (also of Sophisticated Dingo) legitimately read from Specky Magee in place of actual verses. It was a mess and that was just fine.

Vince: We didn’t rehearse for that gig and we haven’t rehearsed since. But that was really important. You step away from the industry for a second after having a label and a whole team – all this stuff that goes on around playing music. Then you play with primetime or Harris, where it’s just like, “Hey, we’ve got a gig and we’re going to play some music on a stage in front of people. And we’re going to try and enjoy it. That’s the goal.”

Noah: Not worry about anything else.

Earlier this year Fan Girl took over The Gasometer Hotel to raise funds for Headspace. It was the second time they’d done such a thing, at the same venue and all. Although, this time was different. It was not only a significant night for the community and Headspace, it also marked a milestone for the band. It was their first time on stage since Jack had passed.

Vince: It was always something that we’d spoken about doing again at some point when it felt right. Late last year we thought, “Let’s just play a gig and see what happens. If we don’t want to play ever again, then we don’t want to play ever again.”

It felt like a really good idea to make that gig the Headspace gig that it became. We couldn’t really think of any other way that felt right to play again, full stop. We weren’t going to do a single launch, we weren’t going to hop on a support and we weren’t going to play a backyard. It felt like the right way to do it, and the response was fucking nuts. The lineup was great – we were blown away by how many people said ‘yes’ straight away and how quickly it actually came together for the most part. It sold out on the hottest fucking night of the year.

Noah: And that’s about community but that’s also mainly about Headspace, because it’s so important to so many people. People really give a shit about it and that’s why we want to do it.

That night ended up raising over $7000 for Headspace. It’s undoubtably an organisation that’s close to the band’s heart.

Vince: Headspace provide to city and country all across Australia, people of all backgrounds. It’s a very wide reaching service that supports people with a lot of different life situations or issues. It’s got a place in our hearts – I have had a lot of experience with Headspace myself, Jack had lots of experience with Headspace. It’s been a really important space for us and a lot of our friends and it just felt like the right thing to do. There are a million things that we can raise money for that are super worthy, but that just felt like the right thing for that time.

The mental health system is very underfunded, not thought out properly and hard to navigate. But also the stigma behind mental health and the way that works is just so thick. It’s going to be a long time before it changes significantly for the good, but I think Headspace is such an important part of the fabric of that.

Jack played a massive part in the production process and vision of Fan Girl – his legacy remains a core part of the band. Whenever Vince and Noah write new music, they’re thinking about him. What he’d love, what he’d hate and most importantly, how he’d push the songs forward. While working on ‘Fox Song’ Jack was never too far from their thoughts.

Vince: We’d been working on demos for four months. Me and Jack had worked up a couple of demos as well. So there was a bit of stuff there. We’d spoken with Noah at great length as well, but mainly me and Jack had spoken a lot about what we wanted to do. That’s been a really interesting process – often really fucking hard.

When we were recording the final version of ‘Fox Song’, we knew it was the single but I still don’t know if I like that song. It happened really quick. I was working nine to five, six days a week, trying to rehearse with one or two bands. Trying to take care of myself and also trying to get this song done. So every waking moment I had that wasn’t at work was at the studio and a lot of it was by myself because Noah had just gone to New Zealand. I had a little notepad that said “what would Jack do” placed in different parts of the room. I wouldn’t necessarily know it was there all the time, but I’d be sitting listening back to a take or thinking about a part and it would just come into my eye line. It really helped. He was the one that pushed a lot of that project out of its comfort zone. I feel like I’m pretty good at that and Noah’s pretty good at that, we’re all pretty ambitious in terms of pushing ourselves and making sure we’re doing new things. But he was the one who’d throw the curveball that would make or break the song.

Noah: Vince and I think very differently, but also in the same way. We’ve both played music since we were teenagers; we kind of think like musicians. I don’t think Jack was totally in that box. He’d always be like, “Well, why do you have to do that?”

Vince: Breaking conventions in a really good way. In a way that I think is really pleasing and interesting to a listener. We had our fair share of very hectic arguments about things, but the fact that there was discourse and having that other person involved really broke it up. Whether he was taking Noah’s side and it was me against the world or whether it was me and Jack against Noah, or whatever it might have been. It was really good to break the mould. Not saying that the first record is revolutionary or anything by any means, but it was something different because Jack was part of it. It would have been a different record without Jack. It wouldn’t have been a record without Jack.

Noah: Jack’s big art was to disturb the comfortable. Me and Vince would often agree on stuff and push boundaries, but not like Jack did. Jack pushed boundaries in every sense of life.

Vince: He pushed boundaries, but he would always bring things back to common ground. I feel like we get stuck in bullshit music semantics about things and he would just be like, “That doesn’t make any sense.” For instance, we used to argue – for years we argued about this – about a song from the first record called ‘I Knew You From Before’ that Dom does a bit of singing on. Jack loved the outro of that and he was always like, “It needs to be twice as long,” and I’d say, “No, we need to not overplay it, it needs to be a thing where people listen to it and they just want a little more.” And he’d say “Nah, they’ll want a bit more if you play it twice. If you play it once it’s just a waste of a good part.” We never agreed on that. But it always sticks in my mind. But I know I’m right, so fuck him (laughs).

Fan Girl are working on new music at the moment. Some of it is music written with Jack, some has been demoed recently. But Jack and his memory will always colour the songs.

Vince: You never know a person that well, but I feel like I know what he would have hated, what he would have liked and what he would have pushed against. I never, ever follow through on an idea that I know he would have hated. Mainly because what happens when Jack hates something is that all he’s doing is showing it to you, so you can see it and hate it too. He was really good at taking the curtain away and being like, “This is shit, what are you doing?” That’s a really strong thing.

I’ve always said this – I’ve not had a better artistic relationship than I had with Jack. It’s been amazing with Noah and it’s been amazing with a lot of bands I’ve been in, but there was a perfect amount of push and pull and the perfect amount of shared vision with Jack. That’ll never be beaten and I don’t want it to be beaten. But it was very strong. It’s pretty important to keep on taking that forward.

I think with all the demos we’ve done – some of which were co-written by Jack musically, we’ve kept pretty good to that so far. Without overthinking it we’re pretty careful about making sure – even if it’s something that’s not necessarily spoken about – that we’re both on the same page, but that we’re also both pushing each other. If we agree too much on something it might not be the best idea.

Noah: But we’ve gotten better at that. We used to agree on too much, to a fault. Now we don’t do that and we challenge each other. Because we had that person that would challenge us. We’re still working on it.

Earlier this year Vince and Noah flew to Sydney for a catch up with the band’s manager and booker. Fan Girl was inching along again and it was time to put plans in place. It was while idling time in Sydney that they found a record with incredible, uncanny significance.

Noah: I feel with certain stuff, Jack is still around. When we went to Sydney and were having the worst day. We missed our flight and all this shit. We had until 10.30pm before flying back to Melbourne, so we went to a few guitar shops and a record store. In the record store there was a Civil Civic record.

Vince: Rules, it’s the first Civil Civic record. It’s an amazing record. They didn’t press heaps and it was released in 2012. I’d been looking for it for five years.

Noah: He even emailed the band.

Vince: I never wanted to pay $150 on Discogs, but I knew it was Australian and I was very hopeful that it would eventually pop up. I’d kind of given up on it. A couple of months after Jack passed away I emailed the band because I was just in this mood of “I really need to get this record.” There’s this one song called ‘Run Overdrive’ on it.

Noah: Jack was obsessed with this song.

Vince: And I was as well – that song actually started a lot of bands. That song started Berlin Sirens, which was a really early band that myself, Dom and Tom from Rat!Hammock played in, in 2012/2013. That song for some reason was a catalyst. That time, that period – everyone got really obsessed with that song. We were in Sydney and we walked in, and it was maybe the second record I saw. I just vividly remember being like, “Fuck, no, I don’t have enough money to buy this record.” But I did. It was weird.

It seems fitting that a member of Civil Civic ended up having a hand in Fan Girl’s music. When it came time to mix and master ‘Fox Song’, the band had a few people in mind, but Aaron Cupples was the standout choice.

Noah: He’s someone we’d always wanted to work with. We hit him up which felt like the right thing to do. He said yes, and we fucking love what he’s done.

Vince: He’s really taken it somewhere else. He’s taken it somewhere that Jack would have fucking loved as well. It’s just berserk.

Noah: Things that are out of our control have pushed us in a new direction.

Vince: Especially with Fan Girl, I’ve always been a bit protective of letting the thing leave the inner circle of me, Noah and Jack. I don’t know if two years ago if I would have been as keen to get Aaron to mix something. I co-mixed that first record with James [Cecil]. We spent 30 days in his studio tinkering away at it. That felt like the right thing to do at the time and it definitely was the right thing to do at the time. I feel like maybe had things gone differently I probably wouldn’t have wanted Aaron to take full reign of the mix.

Noah: You were talking about doing the whole album yourself.

Vince: Which might still happen, we’ll wait and see. But I’m so glad that I disconnected from that narrow way of thinking about it and we went with Aaron. It feels right and it’s exciting for a multitude of reasons. And it sounds really cool. The other thing is we got the rest of the band as well as some other people involved in the recording process which is the first time we’ve done that. It features the whole live band and the boys from murmurmur play some stuff as well and do a bit of singing. To bring it back to community, it’s been really cool for the music, the band, the recording process and hopefully the rest of the record, to reflect the community that’s really helped us through the last year and half.

There’s always been a clear vision to Fan Girl. They’ve always wanted to make music that they wanted to listen to. Things that they wanted to hear on the radio. Things that weren’t being made yet.

Vince: We had such a specific vision about everything. It was so laboured over. I’m not going to say it was overthought, but I’ve never been in a band anywhere near that specific across the board. Specific in the way we presented ourselves, specific in the gigs that we said yes or no to – to a fault. A strong point of this band might be our live show. I feel like we spent quite a fair bit of our early period not playing live enough.

Noah: We knocked back a lot of gigs that we should have played.

Vince: That’s all well and good, and was part of the specific vision we had where we wanted. And I feel like we did follow the vision. We wanted every single gig to be this moment. I feel like, if I look back to every single gig we played I can pinpoint something specific. In a way like no other band I’ve been in. We never played the same gig, we always made a point of making everything as well thought out and driven as we could. It’s a wonderful band to be a musician playing an instrument in. From my knowledge and from what I gather from the other boys – that’s a really good byproduct of that.

Returning to Fan Girl has seen a shift in attitude toward certain things. The boys aren’t as strict with binding themselves to that vision anymore. Dipping their toes back in the water has lent perspective. In their words, it’s at “ankle” depth now.

Vince: I feel like it’s been a general thing but, especially in my head, all I want to do is play. I just want to write songs, record music, play gigs and enjoy it – because that’s the reason you start up in the first place. It’s so easy to get caught up in the whole concept of being your own business person and knowing everything about the industry. I’ve been there to a degree and come back. If anything it’s made the experience more stressful and all I want to do is play music.

After Jack passed away, the guys couldn’t see a future for Fan Girl. For completely warranted and understandable reasons, there was no inspiration to continue the project. For some time grief robbed them of the joy they once found in music. Though one day, a little later down the track, that feeling started to pass.

Noah: I probably was a bit earlier to it than Vince was. Vince: I was defintely the last to it.

Noah: I definitely wasn’t sure if I wanted to do it anymore. It really affected my life. It was a real loss of identity. It really affected my confidence. Both losing Jack and also because it felt like we lost our band as well. That was really fucking me up. I really needed it back. I feel like a big part of me was lost as well on a personal level.

Vince: There was a point when I was going through this thing of trying to overwork myself so I didn’t have to think and then having a total breakdown after a couple of weeks. Then trying to take time off and process stuff. Just going through this whole thing being like, “There is no way I’m going to avoid feeling this and dealing with this.” Then it came to this point – I don’t know, it might have been October 2018 or something – when we started rehearsing? Or occasionally rehearsing?

Noah: We’d hang out almost every week. Just the band.

Vince: It was absolutely lovely. It was a really important part of my week personally. Sometimes it was the only time I wouldn’t not be at home or at Tom’s house. Tom’s house became of a place for us – I was there from 8am until 4am for about a month and a half. But the band was the only other thing that I had. Even though we weren’t playing – it was just like, “Cool, we’re going to go get dinner and just be in each other’s company.” We’d been through a lot as a band and that was really comforting.

The thing that kicked it over was just that after that – trying to do a lot and then trying to do nothing. I kind of started getting everyone to rehearse again, without thinking about it myself. I felt like that’d be the thing to do to help myself, really selfishly. Everyone else was at a point, not saying that they were doing well – everyone was having a shit time – but I think everyone was at a point where they felt like they wanted to at least start playing a bit of music again. I was not at that point, but the fact that everyone else was and the fact that I just had no purpose, or drive or anything was kind of just like, well, now is as good time as ever to just do it and see what happens.

If I’m to be honest, I strip back the things that we’ve got coming up for the band and I still feel totally purposeless as a human being. The life I had has come to a complete stop, but the band has been the total opposite of that. The band has been this amazing thing where we’ve been really lucky enough to be given these opportunities that work as stepping stones for us to work back into it – whether it be the Headspace gig or playing with murmurmur or playing with Rat!hammock or BIGSOUND or any of the upcoming stuff that we have. A lot of it has been me forcing myself to just see what happens and then, basically every time, it’s been well worthwhile.

Noah: It might seem that it’s fluid – it probably doesn’t seem like that at all actually – but for us every step that we’ve made since October has been like ‘let’s just give this a go’ and then we’ll talk about it.

Vince: We’re still very much on that level of operation. I’m not particularly one to rush back into things that I feel are important. I feel like the band’s legacy and Jack’s legacy and everything is really important.

Each step forward as an increment is an utterly human way of dealing with something that has profoundly affected us. Every day manifests as a milestone and there’s a real beauty to that.

Vince: Who’s to know how to deal with it anyway? No one knows, and every tragedy is different. So you never get the precedent of understanding how it’s going to work. You just have to do it, or don’t do it, or whatever it is, you just have to be, I guess. Let it do what it does.

I feel like all of those milestones were a general feeling of the band thinking like we might be ready to try this – and then a feeling in me being like, ‘fuck it.’ That’s been the thing with everything. Even with ‘Fox Song’, we found ourselves in a position where it would be advantageous to the band and advantageous to us moving forward to get a single together and have it out by a certain time. There was a level of optimism, like “We can do this and there’s enough time” and there was also a level of “I am not ready for this, but let’s do it anyway.” Every step of the way that’s been the case and every step of the way I’m so glad that’s the way it’s been, because it’s been very eye opening for me and hopefully it’s been positive for everyone else as well.

The gears of Fan Girl are moving once more. Vince and Noah are in the studio every other night and the band are cropping up on lineups across the city. There is new music in all stages of completion – but it’s not far away.

Vince: We’re going to continue working on ideas. It’s an extension of wanting to play and wanting to write. As a band we’ve never instrumentally or vocally demoed. Most of the first record was completed instrumentally before we started doing vocals. This time around we’re taking the time to enjoy the finesse of that style of songwriting – working on demos, chipping away at stuff. We’ve got a couple of different songs on the burner at any given time. So I think we’ll just keep on doing that. I’d say the game plan at the moment is just to do a single here, a single there and work on a larger release like we’re doing right now in the background. That’ll become a thing and show it’s head when it’s ready. There’s a lot of ideas that we’ve worked on and a tonne more that we haven’t even touched.

Noah: We’re not short on ideas.

Vince: It’s more that we want to piece it together. We want to put out a really great record – we’re all big fans of the album format. We’re all dorks. We want to make a record that we’d always planned to make. It’s a tribute in that whatever we’re doing is of course, always for Jack. Jack’s always part of it. But it’s a continuation. It’s what me and him spoke about, and what me, him and Noah spoke about and what we’ve always wanted to work on.

Take it one step at a time. I’d love for this to be a thing that people enjoy. I’d love nothing more than for us to be able to entertain people and make music that has an impact, or music that is just something to dance to, or is something to cry to. Whatever it might be.

Noah: Dance and cry. We’re just enjoying it at the moment. It’s good to enjoy something.

Vince: We’ve all had tragedies in our lives. Luckily whenever we’re ready, most of us have had a thing that we could go back to that’s enjoyable or nostalgic. I worry about people that don’t have that. I feel so fucking lucky to have music, friends and community. The ability to play music. To live in Melbourne and to be of socioeconomic status that allows me the opportunity to play music. I’m so fucking grateful for that, because I don’t know what I’d do if it wasn’t for that. Not having anything to bounce back on. To not have anything to cling onto or put you passion in to, kind of scares me. That’s a scary thought. I’m feeling very lucky that we’ve got that.

Every day the band take another step forward. Music remains a constant fixture for Vince, Noah, Dom, Krish and Luke, as does the memory of Jack. He will forever be the heart and soul of Fan Girl.

‘Fox Song’ is out now.