Talking DIY Punk and Classic Rock with Sheer Mag and Bed Wettin’ Bad Boys
As they ready for their first Australian tour, Sheer Mag engage in an e-mail exchange with Sydney punks Bed Wettin Bad Boys.
South Philadelphia's Sheer Mag are often painted as the missing link between the stadium riffs of Thin Lizzy and punk rock.
But we should be counting ourselves lucky that their guitar heavy EPs have all been so excellent. The last time Thin Lizzy and punk combined was on "A Merry Jingle", the 1978 single, that had Lizzy's vocalist Phil Lynott joining forces with the Sex Pistol's Steve Jones and Paul Cook to release a hard rocking Christmas medley. It was not their finest hour.
Bed Wettin' Bad Boys often get painted as the missing link between the Australian Replacements and a Cheap Trick karaoke song. They are one of the best bands in the county and all of their moments are their finest.
Sheer Mag, who played some show in the US last year with Sydney's Royal Headache, are heading to Australia for the first time to play shows with a bunch of rad Australian bands including the Bad Boys. The two bands, who play the opening night of the tour tomorrow night in Sydney, sent each other some questions that touched on everything from Bay City Rollers covers to sheep shearing.
Thankfully, Christmas supergroups didn't get a look in.
Bed Wettin Bad Boys: How important is independence in the DIY world to the operation as a band? Are you as sceptical of the "real music industry" as we are?
Matt Palmer: We've all seen the musical biopics right? We agreed early on that we weren't going to "cheat" by taking the easy but compromising publicity opportunities bands are sometimes offered as "exposure." We've built genuine connections with DIY organisers and promoters over the world, and those connections are really valuable to us. We are sceptical of the music industry, but the situation is black and white. We're a young band with high expectations for ourselves, and we hold the people that we work with to those same standards.
BWBBs: Classic rock has a tendency for large, considered production. Do you ever see yourselves recording in a proper studio and trying out the stadium rock approach?
Matt: I wouldn't rule anything out, but seeing as we have made substantial progress on the new record by working in our time-honoured DIY tradition, a new production strategy won't be happening for a while.
BWBBs: Have you heard "I Can See It In Your Eyes" by Despair, who were a band pre-Vibrators? It reminds me of the ideas you guys use in your approach. What are some of the songs or references you passed around to each other when coming up with starting the band?
Ian Dykstra: I've not heard them before. I love The Vibrators, but this song is sick! I wasn't around for the start of the band but when Kyle first told me about Sheer Mag I think we were listening to a Bachman Turner Overdrive record in my living room so I'll always have that association. Or maybe it was Boston?
Tina Halladay: I never hear that song before. I never really thought we were trying to sound like anyone specifically but I always think about the songs we first covered as a nice reference point. They were The Runaways "School Days" and Bay City Rollers "S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y NIGHT".
BWBBs: Sydney may not have a world class reputation for underground music but the strength lies in the sonic diversity. Here things that fit somewhere between the traditions of rock 'n' roll, hardcore punk, avant-garde and synth-pop all exist side-by-side due to a shared DIY ethos. What's the music community like in Philly?
Ian There's genre overlap in the DIY scene in Philly for sure, I think equally out of people's interests as well as necessity. Rock and punk and metal exists in the same universe as noise or electronic stuff and all that overlaps at times. I try to be open-minded and see stuff I know nothing about but most of the bands I go to see and play with tend to be punk and hardcore. Some recent faves are Dark Thoughts who probably wouldn't mind being called Ramones worship, Blank Spell play tight as hell chorused out punk, S-21 are an amazing new hardcore band, Neo-Libz, a drum drum and vocals two piece with samples. There's a tonne more.
BWBBs: From being a post-WWII epicentre for jazz, to Schoolly D to Blues Control and Watery Love, Philly has had a strong, maybe slightly unheralded, musical history. Is there any part that you particularly love or identify with?
Ian: None of us are from Philadelphia originally. I'm from New Jersey, but the longer I've lived in Philly the better acquainted I've gotten with the history. YDI, FOD, Dead Milkmen are all amazing older Philly punk bands. I love hearing about the old spots and finding Philly punk comps in record stores. There are a lot of bands and people that have been doing it forever and feeling like part of that tradition of DIY in the city is pretty cool.
Joe Sukit: Is there a time frame for the new Sheer Mag LP release or was this LP the compilation of the 7"s which is coming out?
Matt: The record that will be available during our Australian tour is a compilation of our first three 7"s. The LP coming out in summer 2017. It represents a slight departure from the "established" sound of Sheer Mag thus far. There are tunes that are reminiscent of our buffer power-pop songs, and deviations from that sound into disco, r&b, folk, and heavy metal.It will hopefully throw some of our old fans for a loop, in terms of how the music and lyrics have evolved and changed over time.
Sheer Mag: In addition to your lyrical subject matter, there is a certain simplicity between your melodies and instrumentation that represents someone being completely enveloped by their shit, defeated and unable to escape it.
Joe: This is a great way of excusing how terrible we are at our instruments, an in depth rationalisation of why a band made up of our combined musical ineptitude would bother to release music at all. Wish it were all part of our artistic vision, but truth be told we're actually trying our hardest to shred. In that sense, us coming to terms with the reality of our musical abilities has a common thread with coming to terms with stuff in our personal lives / lyrical themes.
Ben Warnock: Joe slays at guitar. He taught me how to play a power chord after I spent a week on the internet learning open chords. I remember this study I was told about at uni, looking at energy expenditure of an experienced sheep shearer versus an amateur. They'd shear the same amount, get paid the same amount, but the experienced shearer used way less energy. I can justify being a nufty at guitar as 'efficiency'. My personal theme is efficiency.
Sheer Mag: With Nic running RIP Society and you all being in different bands you seem pretty tuned into most of what's going on musically in Australia. Are there local groups that you would consider to be bigger influences on the BWBB sound than what a listener may assume?
Joe: Maybe not sound-wise, but certainly watching lots of local bands gave us the confidence to not only play music but be ok with it sounding how it sounded coming out of us. Bands like Kitchen's Floor, Dead Farmers, Eddy Current Suppression Ring, Woollen Kits, Naked on the Vague, Circle Pit, they were all bands that we would watch when we first wanted to start playing music and they all sort of celebrated making original music that didn't really sound like anyone else in particular - or more so sounded like only those people could make that music.
Nic Warnock: I don't think there's a sound orientated lineage of local music that directly influenced our sound. Three of us grew up in Far North Queensland and somehow discovered The Stooges was quite early in our underground music journey. Discovering Queensland has it's own pre-punk group in The Saints was a revelation, knowing that our "backwards" state was a part of this punk history but without the sensationalism. In the early 2000's Chapter Music released two compilations chronicling Australian Post-Punk, I feel these compilations had an understated influence on a revival of DIY.
Sheer Mag: Your first EP has a bit more of a classic "punk" sound. It's a bit faster and the vocals are perhaps angrier sounding.
Joe: Originally the band was Nic, Ben and I. Nic had a bass and Ben and I had guitars. We didn't know any drummers so depending on who wrote the song we would move someone to a stand-up drum kit. Those recordings are us learning how to play our instruments with one of us doing some kind of rhythm. By the time we did the second 7" we kinda felt limited by that so we asked Doug to play drums, only he'd never played drums before. So the LP is Doug learning to play drums while we get slightly better at playing guitars.
Nic: The anger in our early songs was something to hide behind. Saying "fuck you" was easier than addressing the complexities of life. Not that pure anger can't be truly expressive, it's just not the truest way for me to be expressive. I think our next record is a continuation of our progression, I don't think we're "maturing" as much as having further figured out our collective music voice. Gaining the confidence to be ourselves has played as large a role in this progression as technically improving at our instruments. Writing music with Joe, Doug and Ben feels more and more intuitive, corny as it sounds it's become a very pure creative outlet.
Sheer Mag: Any US tours in the works?
Joe: It's hard enough to convince people in our own city to see us.
Sheer Mag 2016 Australian Tour:
Dec 1 - Sydney at Bald Faced Stag
Dec 3 - Berry at Fairgrounds Festival
Dec 3 - Wollongong at Rad Bar
Dec 4 - Disconnect Festival, WA
Dec 8 - Brisbane at Brightside
Dec 9 - Toowoomba at Spotted Cow
Dec 10 - Meredith Music Festival
Dec 11 - Melbourne at the Tote