Rock maelstrom Violent Soho find themselves back on top after relocating back to Australia, finding renewed focus and passion in the process. Luke Boerdam talks to Brendan Telford about finding their feet once more.
Mansfield's finest exports Violent Soho have been on a wild ride since busting out of their bedrooms in a whirlwind of sludgy chords and angst-fuelled abandon some eight years ago. Mates since high school, the four-piece – Luke Boerdam, James Tidswell, Luke Henery and Michael Richards – immediately found a willing audience. Yet after the release of 2008 debut record We Don't Belong Here and being championed as the second coming of grunge, overseas beckoned and they relocated to the United States.
Signing to Thurston Moore's Ecstatic Peace label, Violent Soho suddenly found themselves taking Stateside tours with the likes of Dinosaur Jr, Built To Spill and The Bronx. It seemed as if their wildest dreams had come true. Yet the highs were matched with some confounding lows – their 2010 self-titled, Gil Norton-produced follow up (which essentially was a reworked version of We Don't Belong Here with some new tracks littered throughout) received some debilitating reviews, and the commercialisation of their sound found them rubbing shoulders with “luminaries” such as 30 Seconds From Mars. Not sure what it was they wanted, combined with pangs of homesickness, the band swung back to Brisbane.
“I wouldn't have done anything differently though [if had the chance],” Boerdam defiantly affirms. “What happened was we had a rare opportunity in front of us to go play and tour in different countries, and to do that they wanted this album, and they wanted it this way. We thought, 'Okay', because we had some new songs ready. The only thing I'd change is that I would have lobbied for a whole new album, giving us three months to write before hitting the studio rather than having to re-record seven songs the same way. But most people don't realise that the first record was like a bandaged album full of demos. We just wanted to get something out there, so what we did was put it all together and sent it off to Lindsay Gravina to get mastered, and that was it! We had something to tour then. We thought we would only make 1000 copies, but it took us on this whole trajectory to the point where people wanted to throw world-class producers at us to re-record it. That's the way it was supposed to sound the first time around, I'll stand by it any time, I think it's a fucking awesome record; it's just that the first album built up all this pace and success and a bit of a fanbase.”
Whilst the circumstances may not have been optimal for Violent Soho and their Australian fanbase, who felt like the band were treading water, the time recording in Wales with Norton and touring constantly certainly paid dividends.
“Before getting picked up I could barely string two chords together, so by the time we got to Wales I could play these songs and I could sing a little better,” Boerdam admits. “There was no slow build, which in some ways would have been nice, because we went [from] being a small band to having to do a lot of work. It was amazing though. To be able to play and tour with so many rad bands has strengthened my songwriting and the way I want to approach music. Built To Spill in particular was amazing. I learnt a lot from just watching them, how they craft their music and their live show is something kinda raw, yet it comes across as this layered masterpiece. It's not something that can be replicated by anyone. The way they toured was also part of making us want to try harder, not just as a band onstage but all the time. They played shows that were significant to them; they chose bands like Doom Disco from Switzerland to support them because they wanted everyone to hear them. The respect you have for such a band was also how they treated us; there were no boundaries about where you could go backstage – 'you can't walk down this corridor, you can't drink with us', that kind of deal. It was all inclusive, a really cool approach, and I respect that so much.”
After relocating to Brisbane and taking some time out to reassess, Violent Soho are finally doing things the way they want to. First cab off the rank is double a-side Tinderbox/Neighbour Neighbour, two fully-fleshed beasts of tracks that saw Gravina back on the scene, this time in the producer's chair.
“I think it's hard for any band to come back after being thrown in the deep end like we were,” Boerdam states. “After it all we just wanted to come home, work out what the fuck we were doing. We went from working with Dean Turner (Magic Dirt) to getting thrown on major label American rock tours and radio promo tours; from playing the Step Inn to playing stadiums. It was like being thrown into a washing machine and spat out the other end. So when we got home we had a break from it all, then [we'd] write some music, take it to Lindsay and record it. Lindsay didn't hold back either – we thought Gil was tough! Lindsay is a workhorse. He creates an interesting vibe in the studio – it was pretty much 'get it right or go home'. On the last day the rest of the band had left and I was left to do vocals. I went in there at 9am, my flight was 7am the following morning, and I called the car at 5am. I swear that half of the recording time was spent tuning. He's a perfectionist, but that's what we wanted, and the recording came out exactly how we wanted.”
It all feels like a vindication of sorts, as the sold-out run of shows promoting the new 7” and their recent signing to I Oh You attests. The fact that there is so much love for Violent Soho in Australia is what keeps the band centred; they're the strongest they've ever
been and excited about what the future will bring, including a new album done wholly on their own terms.
“When starting out your hometown has more of an idea on where you're coming from and what you're trying to do [than other places], but we've slogged it out now to the point where no matter where we go now we have a good turnout where everyone goes pretty nuts,” Boerdam laughs. “We've been through a lot and it stands to reason that everyone knows what we're on about. We've only been about rocking out; playing the type of music that we enjoy, not being a particular genre or even pleasing people to be honest, and I think that most people get that now. Now we're just keen to get stuck into it. I have a whole bunch of new songs under my belt and am ready to just get it done. This time around it feels so much more comfortable.”
Violent Soho will be playing the following shows:
Friday 23 November - Alhambra Lounger, Brisbane QLD