“We went to kindy together,” Bleeding Knees Club's Jordan Malane tells Dan Condon about the roots of the Queensland garage surf duo.
There are myriad examples of it throughout the recent history of rock music – the slacker band paradox. It's a simple and well established fact that you do not get anywhere in rock'n'roll without hard toil and while the Australian pub rock tradition has in the past embraced the very concept of hard work making it not only their modus operandi but part of their contrived image, these days things are a little different. Lazy, bored, stoned, disenfranchised – the slacker du jour is omnipresent right now and while fine in theory, it simply does not work in practice.
Gold Coast's Bleeding Knees Club are probably Australia's pre-eminent example of this; their album is called Nothing To Do, yet this couldn't be further from the truth for the band's two main members and old friends Alex Wall and Jordan Malane. The past 18 months have seen them tour overseas territories tirelessly, record the aforementioned debut record and establish themselves, with the help of fawning high profile media, as one of our country's most promising garage rock exports in recent memory.
“We've been friends since we were like two-years-old; we were kind of family friends,” Wall explains of the duo's history.
“We went to kindy together,” Malane adds.
“But we didn't really hang out until we were like 18 or 19.”
“We played baseball for a year when we were in grade five,” Malane interjects.
“I moved house pretty close to where Jordan was living at the time,” Wall recounts. “We both had nothing at all to do during the days; I was going to uni and he was just hanging out and working a little, so we'd just hang out during the day, go to his house and teach each other guitar. We both didn't know how to play guitar – we taught each other. He got a drum kit one day and I knew how to play a little bit of drums, so we just ended up jamming and making up really stupid songs.”
“I was putting on an art show on the Sunshine Coast and we just decided to play on the day, we played four songs and had heaps of fun,” Malane recalls. “We were so nervous; we'd never been in bands before. But it was cool.”
Bleeding Knees Club is the duo's first shot at being in a rock band. Upon forming they had no past failures from which to have learned, no tips or tricks learnt from years of slogging it out on the national highways and in the country's dank nightclubs and watering holes, but also no expectations of how they should approach their songwriting, their touring regime, how to promote themselves and just about everything else that goes with being in a band.
“It's the best thing not being in a band [previously], we don't have to listen to people who tell us how to do things,” Wall grins. “We have nothing to look back on and be like, 'Oh, we should do it this way because that's how we used to do it'. We just make it up as we go.”
“It's worked for us the best,” Malane agrees. “Every now and then when we were first starting out we'd jam with someone else and they'd always maybe try and make it a bit too technical…”
“Solos,” Wall laughs.
“But we're like, 'Nup. Just keep it simple'. And that's kind of been our ethos… Whatever that means.”
The band has organically evolved since their formation though. Unbridled enthusiasm led them to perform in something of a brash manner before a change in tastes turned things around.
“We were like way punk at the start, I'd scream really crazy,” Wall says. “I didn't know how to sing – it was the only way I knew how to sing. Then we kind of got into pop music and wanted to write catchy, fun songs so that's where we're at now.”
They may be here now, but it's somewhat against the odds. The band had, for all intents and purposes, split up after their first run of shows and if it weren't for a last minute decision to document this fleeting part of their lives, things would have been very different for these two guys.
“We went through a stage where we had played probably like five shows and we just weren't any good live and we just came to terms with the fact that we just sucked and that it wasn't even cool,” Malane tells. “So we were like, 'Alright, let's just quit. Let's flag the band and not even worry about it. We'll just look back on it.' Our friend convinced us to do one final show and he paid us 300 dollars for it, so we were like, 'We'll do it'.
“Alex was about to go overseas to the US and we were like, 'Fuck it, we have 300 dollars, let's record'. So we recorded Have Fun and Eye and then Alex left and I put them on [triple j] Unearthed and sent them around a few people and it got played on triple j and I was calling Alex saying, 'Dude, people want us to play all these shows'.”
“You ruined my holiday,” Wall sighs.
Before long the band were offered their first national tour, a seemingly bizarre choice as the support for Ballarat's Yacht Club DJs.
“We did that tour and we partied so hard, because it was our first tour,” Mallane recounts. “But I could not imagine seeing one of our shows; it would have been so bad. Their manager was getting pretty pissed off at us because we were so unorganised and just not legit. We just didn't know what we were doing.”
They don't seem to have any regrets about this approach to touring, though acknowledge that they've had to clean up their act somewhat.
“It was a joke, the whole band at the start, we didn't really want to take it seriously and we still don't,” Wall explains. “But we started playing bigger shows and people actually wanted to listen to us and people don't want to listen to us playing like crap every time.”
“The novelty dies off,” Malane adds.
One of the surprising things about Bleeding Knees Club's success is the sheer lack of grassroots hometown shows they played in their formative time as a band.
“We'd always come to Brisbane,” Malane says.
“We'd go to every show,” adds Wall.
“Me and Alex used to put on band nights and stuff. We were always in the music scene, we just didn't know how to play instruments.”
And when they did, they didn't want to their home bases to tire of them quickly.
“We made a big point that we didn't want to from the start,” Wall says of playing shows in Brisbane and their home city of the Gold Coast. “We were music likers and we saw what bands did and how that ruined them. We made a point to just play like two local shows a year so we don't get burnt out and then everyone gets sick of us. We purposely never played Brisbane or the Gold Coast because we can play here whenever we want.”
The band's biggest step yet is undoubtedly the release of their debut album Nothing To Do, which hit stores at the beginning of March.
“I like the record. It sounds like we want it to sound,” Malane says.
They had a couple of strong ideas as to where they wanted to take their sound
“Mainly listening to other records and picking what we liked about each record,” Wall says. “We were listening to a whole bunch of music and stuff, just trying to pinpoint what we wanted to sound like.”
“We were listening to heaps of Blink-182 before we went in and recorded,” Malane reveals.
“And sixties stuff,” adds Wall. “I pretty much only listened to sixties music for like a year. The American Graffiti soundtrack was the soundtrack of my life.”
So strong was their idea of the sound they were going for, even their producer Dev Hynes (Test Icicles, Lightspeed Champion, Blood Orange) didn't have much influence.
“Dev didn't really influence anything on what we wanted on the album, we had an idea before Dev of what we wanted,” Malane explains.
“That made it easier, I guess,” Wall considers. “When we went in there – we were only in the studio for five days – we kinda just nailed it out. We had a few questions here and there about what we should do so we just left it up to Dev to tell us or play around or whatever.”
Call it growing up, calling it bucking the trend or call it change for change's sake, the band's most all encompassing wish was epic, but simple.
“We had a lot of things that we didn't want to sound like; we didn't want to be lo-fi anymore,” Malane says.
“Or at least labelled like that.”
LIVING THE DREAM
NOT ROAD WARRIORS
Local shows might have been few and far between, but Bleeding Knees Club have been hard at it overseas. It's interesting, then, to hear them respond to one simple question: do they like touring?
“No,” Wall says.
“No,” Malane echoes with a laugh.
“I hate it,” adds Wall. Before Malane concedes it's not all bad.
“It has its perks,” he says.
“It's cool to go somewhere for like a week, but when you're overseas for months it just drags on,” Wall says. “You're tired all the time and you never get to sleep.”
“It has its ups and downs,” adds Malane. “When you get to play a show you're really psyched, it's the best thing about it and what you look forward to the most. But when we first toured I'd dread playing shows because we didn't know what we were doing and we'd sound crap and we'd just get devo'd after it. But now we've got everything down pat it's heaps more fun.”