KILNS: Using music to figure it all out

Words by Dom Buckham

Melbourne’s KILNS have been steadily making their way into our hearts over the last 18 months. Transitioning from Mickey Cooper’s (formerly of RAT!hammock) solo project into fully functioning band, they’ve enjoyed national airplay with their first single ‘Go Slowly’, coupled with a sold out launch at the Workers Club and recently supported San Cisco on their Torquay leg. 

Their new single ‘Pinky Finger’ delivers a discussion about anxiety and obsessive tendencies wrapped up in a bittersweet slice of dreamy Americana road-trip rock.

I sat down with Mickey and Dave to talk transitions, mental health and toxic masculinity in the music industry.  

Mickey, after your solo album ‘Hit the Ceiling’ came out, what brought on the decision to transition from Mickey Cooper into Kilns?

Mickey: Well, the solo thing wasn’t really planned. I wrote and recorded that album on holiday in New York. Then realised I had this album and I might as well try and put it out properly and play a few gigs. So the next thing after that was always going to be getting a band together. But it was just about getting the right people involved.

How did you find the right people?

Mickey: Dave and I have been playing music since I was 17 and he was 20. 

Dave: I was a in this punk band and we had a fairly exhaustive process trying to find new people to play with us and then one day, Mickey came in and just smashed the audition. 

Mickey: I was supposed to be doing Year 12, but instead joined this band and and went on tour and played something dumb like 60 gigs in 3 months. 

That’s hectic. 

Mickey: Yeah, I was often getting chased out of bars after our set. 

Dave: That band wrote and recorded an album before we played a show and then we just hit the ground running. 

Mickey: It was a total life education.

Dave: We learnt a hell of a lot and it’s pretty much shaped everything we’ve done since. It taught us a lot about work ethic and how much hard work it takes to become a really good live band. 

How did the rest of the band come into the picture?

Mickey: James and I have been really good mates for a long time. He’s a songwriter too and we’ve been bouncing ideas off each other for years and Swainy (Sam Swain), our bassist, I met doing the first RAT!hammock E.P. I walked in and was like. “Whoa, who’s this other guy with red hair?” And now I live with him. 

It’s handy having one of the best producers in Melbourne IN the band.  

Mickey: Yeah, although I don’t know how much he wants to record us anymore. I refused to stop doing vocal takes and I drove him insane. 

Your new single ‘Pinky Finger’ deals with themes of obsession, superstition and anxiety. What are your personal experiences with these themes?

Mickey: When I was a kid I was weirdly superstitious. I still am. I have my favourite numbers and even to this day when I fill up my car I make sure the numbers add up to seven. But when I was a kid it got kind of intense because I would count the syllables on my hand as I was talking to someone and I would shape the sentences so they’d always finish on my pinky finger. I also had lots of experiences hallucinating and sleep paralysis. I wanted to write a song about the brains capacity to trick itself, which a lot of people experience in their own unique ways.

On that point, why do you think it’s important that we have songs that talk about those things?

Mickey: Anxiety is a really common theme in my songs because a lot of the time I’m just trying to figure out why things affect me the way they do, understand it and get better. 

Is there song that has made you feel like you weren’t alone in your anxiety?

Mickey: There are so many amazing musicians talking about mental health right now. It’s so prevalent and important. But for me, when I was a kid and having all these hallucinations that were making me feel uncomfortable and weird, I remember hearing the Crowded House song ‘Pineapple Head’ which is about Neil Finn’s son having the same feverish hallucinations. I remember hearing that song and hearing him saying that’s what it was about and thinking ‘Oh cool, there’s other people out there who experience these things.’ 

As a band, you often talk about mental health, especially within the music industry. The reality is Australian musicians are often faced with low pay, drug and alcohol fuelled environments, on top of a heap of rejection. They are five times more likely to experience anxiety and ten times more likely to experience depression. As musicians, is there anything you would like to see the industry do to help better support artists?

Dave: Particularly over the last four to five years I think there’s been some massive changes in support networks for artists, like Support Act. There’s a lot more available now than when we first started out. People are a lot more comfortable to speak out about things that are affecting them, which is great. It’s a massive improvement. I think anything that creates a conversation is a really good thing and musicians have a great platform to start those conversations whether it’s through a song or a gig that they put on.

Mickey: I’ve noticed that venues have been getting better with the pay guarantees that they’re offering artists. It’s so much better than five years ago. I know that that’s not regulated in anyway and maybe that’s something that could be improved. Pay the artist a fair base rate and don’t just cheap out and say six beers is your payment. Because it’s not. It fuels alcohol dependency. I remember when we were doing silly touring in our punk band and playing pub gigs, it didn’t matter if there was two people there or 200 people, we wouldn’t be paid much at all and we always felt like we had to drink the whole rider to get our moneys worth. I think it’s a hangover from that ‘70s or ‘80s Aussie pub rock era. While it’s still nice to be looked after by a venue, maybe that still has a little way to go.    

Yeah, I’ve found myself after some of my own shows feeling like asking ‘Can I have the beer part but in money? We could really use that $50 for petrol.’

Mickey: Or vegetables! *he holds up his grocery bag.*

There are bands out there at the moment like IDLES who are quite aggressively tackling the issue of toxic masculinity. As a band of all males, how important do you think it is that you talk about that?

Mickey: Super important. And not just in a lip-service, superficial aesthetic way. We are owning our position as an all male/all white/all straight band and realising that the space for a group like us is shrinking and so it damn well should be. That’s not something that we’ll ever bat an eyelid about. That’s the way that it’s going and that’s the way that it should be going. 

We obviously don’t have a huge platform. We’re a new band only on our second single, but when stuff has come up where we feel like our voice is appropriate to lend to a cause, we have no issue putting it out there. I was a huge Ryan Adams fan and when all that stuff went down I made a point of saying, ‘Fuck this. This is not acceptable. We don’t stand for this.’ That’s important to say because we are all on the same page with that stuff. 

You’re doing a double single launch at the Grace Darling with Santa Fe Driving Range with support from Quivers and Eaglemont. Huge line up. How did that come about?

Dave: We played with Santa Fe Driving Range in December last year and thought they were great. Sometimes it can be difficult to find band that you fit with but we thought we should definitely do this again. It’s perfect because their single is called ‘Careless Hands’ and ours is ‘Pinky Finger’, so there’s a theme.

*Mickey wanted the record to show that he did a pinky swear with his hands as that was said*

Mickey: We both got to pick a support, so we picked Eaglemont, who’s one of the best songwriters in Melbourne, and they picked Quivers and I don’t know how they’re on the line up. They’re massive. They just did SXSW and a KEXP. We’re gonna have to pull our socks up.

Whats next for KILNS?

Dave: We finished our album yesterday. We’ve been working on it for 18 months now and it’s changed form a bunch of times. Reflecting on it, we’ve realised how important it was for us to spend the time that we did on it. We started working on the album when we had literally just started as a band and were still working out who we were, what we sounded like and what we wanted to say. As we listened to some of the final cuts of the songs over the last few weeks it has been pretty awesome to look back on our journey as a band. 

So some more singles then an album. Cant wait!

Mickey: Yeah, one more single and then our budget will be blown. 

Check out KILNS’ ‘Pinky Finger