“Everything we have ever spoken about has actually happened.”
IF MELBOURNE and Sydney are the London and Manchester of Australian music, what’s Brisbane? Speaking from their practice room in their hometown’s northern suburb of Stafford, The Goon Sax – that’s Louis Forster (guitar, voice), James Harrison (bass, voice) and Riley Jones (drums, voice) – argue the toss. After toying with Leeds and, curiously, Dover, Riley hits on Glasgow. “It’s a dream land!” she says of the city’s status as birthplace of indie rock, as her bandmates murmur their agreement. “Very fertile soil.”
Their formidable new album, We’re Not Talking, offers a convergent, sunlit take on the Glasgow School’s long-established principles, in accents Australian. Romantic doubt, cautious optimism and the broadening horizons of the late-teen years come wrapped in smart-yet-loose rhythmic guitar pop which, in an advance on 2016’s debut Up To Anything, now comes decorated with strings, brass and castanets. Opening with Make Time 4 Love’s swooping, Latin-flavoured rumination on the heart’s awkwardness and confusion, and ending with Til The End’s bittersweet reflection on books and the unknowable future, its 30 minutes, written and sung by all three members, seem much longer.
“Everything we have ever spoken about has actually happened,” says Louis. “All the music’s been made out of necessity.”
James, whose frankness is acute on songs like Love Lost and Losing Myself, concurs. “I try and be honest,” he says. “I think that’s pretty easy if you’re bringing yourself to it. Everyone has emotions.”
Formed by James and Louis in high school in 2013, their original plan to start a punk band was stymied by their not owning electric guitars, obliging them to follow a folkier route.
“We were just mucking around,” says Louis. “It wasn’t as serious as other bands we’d been in. James was the first person I felt comfortable playing music with and showing songs to. Riley was the second person.”
When their drummer made up the magic number, things took on more import.
“I could play a beat, maybe two,” says Riley, who admits to two weeks of lessons. “But y’know, it feels like it comes more directly from inside somehow. The worse you are at your instrument, the better it is!”
Their respective musical gateway drugs make for a fragrant mix: Dylan (James), The Pastels and the Marine Girls (Riley) and boldly Australian indie rock supergroup Boomgates. Brisbane pop aficionados may also discern the artful narratives – and even the look – of early Go-Betweens, one of whose singer-songwriters was Louis’ father, Robert. Is he a fan of dad’s old group?
“Not more than anyone I think is into their parent’s jobs,” he says. “I heard it around, but I was never a fan per se.”
“I think a lot of people want to relive something that they really enjoyed,” Riley tells MOJO, diplomatically.
Until then, there’s the future to think about. The group bring their endearingly non-slick live show back to the UK in September, the better to build on unexpected anthems like Make Time 4 Love.
“I know what you mean about it being anthemic,” says Louis. “When I wrote it I just couldn’t stop laughing. I thought the melody… I didn’t even think we could play it, it was so ridiculous. But then, we did.“
• For fans of: Belle & Sebastian, Orange Juice, The Vaselines
• James and Louis met in a band called The Miriams, amongst other “almost all bad” names.
• The Goon Sax refers to Goon, the cheap wine favoured by Aussie youth. But it goes further. Riley: “I think when Louis was about 14, someone said to him, ‘You’re a bloody goon,’ which is sort a foreign insult, but it really stuck with him. And I think maybe they intended to have a saxophone player at one point.”
• Make Time 4 Love
• Strange Lights
• Get Out ■