I’m sitting in a beer garden in Fortitude Valley for my 6th consecutive hour, but I’m not even close to relaxed. I’ve just wrapped up my 3rd interview of the day and I’m preparing for my 4th, with probably the most intimidating subject I’ve been asked to meet. At the last minute, I’ve hooked up an interview with Immigrant Union, the Melbourne band fronted by Bob Harrow and Brent DeBoer and I’m not sure who will be showing up. “Definitely Bob, maybe Brent” is the word from the publicist and I’m not panicking yet, but I’m not far off. I’m pretty unprepared and, like most people, I know Brent best as the drummer for The Dandy Warhols, a band who I have loved and admired for years. I message a friend who I know is a fan and ask if he has any advice. His tips come in handy and I hammer out some questions for definitely Bob, maybe Brent.

The allotted time rolls around and I’ve still got the beer garden to myself. I get concerned no-one is coming, but I’m not really too worried. I have another look through my questions, make some edits and try to relax a bit. I look up and see two unmistakable figures walking towards me. Definitely Bob, definitely Brent. I stand up and wave them over, we start with small talk and then two other gents join us, drummer Paddy McGrath-Lester and Anto Skene, the band’s manager, whose first words to me ever are, “I hope you want a drink, Wes” as he hands me a pint.

As Bob lights up a cigarette and Brent starts vaping on his e-cig, I take a sip of my beer (Stone & Wood, cheers Anto), finally relax a bit and we all get down to business.

You guys met about 10 years ago at Cherry Bar. Did you know from that initial meeting that you’d be compatible musically.

Brent: Yes.

Bob: I think we knew we were compatible definitely.

Brent: Yeah I, from when I first met Bob, was instantly attracted to him, for obvious reasons. He’s got real long hair and he looks like a big stoner and he looks like he’s into my kind of music and that’s why you get talking. Same thing if you meet a beautiful woman and at first she just looks really good and then you start talking to her and you realise she likes the same kind of records that you like and that she’s into the same kind of things and it’s real funny and natural and you’re even more attracted to her. That’s exactly the way it was with Bob and I when we first met.

I read that it was to do with a Bob Dylan t-shirt Brent was wearing in a magazine photo.

Bob: Loosely, from my standpoint, I’d seen a photo of Brent wearing a Dylan t-shirt and I thought that was cool. So yeah that initially struck up the “are you into Dylan?” conversation, but I’m sure we would have crossed paths anyway.

Brent: Yeah.

I’m sure there’s a lot of people that would wear the Dylan shirt and not be into Dylan anyway.

Bob: Oh, I knew he was into Dylan.

So what’s the dynamic like with songwriting and jamming out new ideas, is it a partnership or does someone generally have an idea and lead with it?

Bob: Well we’ve done it in different ways I guess, we’ll collaborate on stuff. What usually happens is Fathead will write a song, or I’ll write a song and then we come to rehearsal and we just arrange it. What’s started to happen now with Paddy and Ben, and we’ve also got Gamma (Peter Lubulwa) in the band, Ben and Paddy will just start playing something while we’re finishing our cigarettes before we start rehearsing and then we’ll walk over and join them. That’s a kind of cool new thing that’s started to happen.

Brent: I haven’t been able to work out a tune yet from that method but it sure is fun jamming.

Bob: Oh dude, there’s a few there man.

Brent: Oh yeah, ‘cos Bob records them. I just haven’t really heard ‘em.

Bob: Dude, there’s definitely. Oh for fuck’s sake. Oh yeah man. Oh dude. We record everything, every time we’re at rehearsal I just press record on my phone. I record the whole rehearsal and then I earmark what I need to know. I just write ‘fuck yeah’ or ‘that’s pretty cool’ or ‘shit,’ ‘yes,’ ‘awesome’ and then I go back through and I can find them.

And it’s a solid naming system…

Bob: It’s a very good naming system, there’s nothing better than saying ‘fuck yeah.’

Do you ever have ideas that you know exactly how they sound in your head and you come in and go ‘I want you to play that, like that’?

Brent: I do. Usually that’s the way it is for me because I spend months and months and months and months arranging and organising the lyrics and changing one tiny little word or syllable here and there, getting rid of a line, this and that and the length of the instrumental section and the half a verse going back into a short half instrumental before the outro lyric and then from there on it’s like ‘oh yeah’, then we’ll just naturally just let it go from there. In all other facets of my life I’m completely disorganised, completely don’t give a rat’s ass what time it is, I don’t wear a watch, I don’t know what day it is, don’t even know what month it is half the time, I forget what year it is. But when it comes to arranging a tune I get pretty particular, I love particular little passing notes on a bass guitar, and I certainly ask for these little things to please happen. There’s a couple of little notes here and there that, probably I’m the only person in the world who’ll ever notice but I just need it really badly. That’s just kind of me. But then over the years though those songs where I was so particular I sort of start to forget what those things were and I know that our tunes have morphed into a whole other animal.

Does that come from playing with many different people, different lineups?

Brent: Maybe or just playing a lot, lots of concerts and you realise that maybe those initial ideas that you had weren’t exactly correct. But initially if I have a tune I get pretty picky about the order of events. But I don’t remember what those particular elements were of half our songs now, we just play them so differently now and I love it.

Bob: The best way to find out what they were was to listen to the Garageband, I guess.

Brent: The original demos. But ten years from now who knows how we’re going to play any of these songs.

Bob: Yeah, I might just put the acoustic down.

Brent: I went and saw Dylan and it was one of the greatest gig I’ve ever heard and I didn’t recognise any of the songs he played. Didn’t matter though they were all, it was like going to see a band of all new material and it was just beautiful. The best amps, best guitars, best players, best vocalists, best lyrics. I could hardly pick out what these tunes even were, from the ones that I didn’t know to the ones that I hold dear and cherish. I couldn’t pick them out and after about 40 minutes I didn’t care anymore. You’re just listening to tunes.

Your latest album has been pretty successful with critics and fans, is that the aim or is that just an added bonus?

Brent: Oh, that’s the aim. I think the aim is to make something that we all completely love, that makes us happy and trip and want to listen to over and over again, where you can listen all the way through without hearing some little niggly moment that makes you want to fix something. When you get to that point you just figure that there’s absolutely no way that we are so strange and so weird and so unique that not one other person in the world could relate as well. I figure if me and Bob and everyone just is really digging on it that there’s be a lot of other people a lot like us, cos I don’t think we’re that strange. And we’re certainly not attempting to be strange. Our music, I think, is accessible.

Bob: In what you may be asking, we don’t write a song and go ‘That’s gonna get us 4 stars.’ We don’t do it that way, we just do it the best we can.

But you are looking for a human connection.

Brent: We don’t want to play to an empty room. We want to meet people, we want to hang out with people, we want lots of people at our concerts…

Bob: But we’re not writing Britney Spears songs…

Brent: I’d love to know how. I just want to write one and have her record it and have it be a massive hit, while I drive around in my Bugatti. [laughs]

Bob: But we don’t sit there and go ‘oh you need a bridge now’ it’s all very natural.

Brent: I don’t know those rules, I don’t know how to write a song. I literally do not know how to write a song.

You also just finished touring the album?

Brent: Well we just did a tour. And it just finished and I was like “wow that tour’s over” and then 24 hours later I’m on an airplane, flying to Brisbane. But that was a good tour.

You hit a lot of regional centres, is there any reason for going to small towns?

Bob: Yeah we did Warrnambool and stuff, Maitland, Maroochydore…

Brent: Yeah and these are the some of the most fun concerts we played. You know that venue here in Brisbane?

Paddy: Lefties.

Bob: Oh that was amazing.

Brent: Lefties is the greatest bar I’ve ever been to in my life. That Maitland gig, what was the name of that bar?

Paddy: The Junkyard.

Bob: That was the best.

Brent: The staff, all the patrons, everybody there, that was one of the best night’s I’ve ever had musically in my life. We were just playing to the greatest people, it was just the coolest experience, it was so communal. I’ll never forget that. That gig in Maitland, was one of the best night’s in my life.

Do you think it’s because people in rural and regional areas of Australia are just starved for entertainment?

Bob: I don’t think it’s just that. I grew up in a country town and back home you’d have a band play and they can be quite shit, but because they haven’t seen anything in a while they might get a bit excited. But I think generally it’s these people who live in rural places, they don’t get to see much stuff so they’re at home listening to really great music. That’s they’re entertainment. Then they come out and see a band that they can relate to what they’ve been listening to and they get really fucking excited. I think it’s more than just that they don’t get to see anything, I think they’re very wise to what is good.

Brent, you also tour with The Dandy Warhols, how does that work with scheduling?

Brent: Anto works with The Dandy Warhols management and we do our very best to book our tours and our concerts around The Dandys. The Dandys for 18 years have been my sole income, and I have to respect that so we book around that. And it basically works. Occasional problems, it keeps life interesting. It just means a lot of air miles.

And the last time The Dandys were in Melbourne was on the tail end of the 13 Tales anniversary tour and you guys played 5 shows at The Corner. Do you think we as music fans are drawn to nostalgic ideas rather than current?

Brent: I think so. When I go see a band that I love I want them to play all the big mega hits. I just saw Blur at Splendour and I admit, I was itching and waiting around for those big hits, my favourite songs of theirs. I think with The Dandys we’ve been doing that, whether or not we’re touring on a 13 year anniversary of 13 Tales in the year 2013 or whatever – that was just something that Zia noticed that was in the year 2013 was the 13 year anniversary of 13 Tales. She was like “Ah! Triple 13!” but it wasn’t much more than that. I can’t remember the question but that was a really fun tour.

I just asked if you think we’re drawn to nostalgia rather than current ideas and then, does that make it difficult for you guys to make new music or do you use nostalgia in what you create?

Bob: Well I don’t think you purposely use nostalgia, but I think nostalgia is in everything. Every new band, even if they’re new you can’t separate them from nostalgia. Like I saw that band Pearls and they’re fucking awesome, they sounded amazing they sounded like early 90s droney shit that I love.

Brent: At this point, nostalgia’s kind of over. This guy sent me this link to this band called Chain…

Bob: Dude, they’re the sickest band!

Brent: I know! And I turned it on and I thought I was watching something from 2012 and it turned out it was like 1971. And right there at that moment I was like, you know what you just can’t tell anymore. It sounded so modern, I was like ‘I can’t wait to see these guys.’ All these dudes look like everybody that I hang out late at parties with. There was not one difference, from their moustaches to the sound of their music to their amps and guitars. I thought this black and white was a mock up in digital, you know what I mean? I was just looking at it going ‘these guys are so cool’… I can’t tell anymore. But the thing is, nostalgia? Nobody cares anymore. You put on Die Antwoord, the most futuristic music you can probably find, and you can still pick out elements from the past. I think that now in 2015, good luck sounding futuristic. Everything’s nostalgic. Every sound you hear reminds you of something.

Paddy: Television. They sound exactly like what’s hip now.

Brent: The hippest new indie rock band you can find.

Bob: And The Cars.

I just have one more, do you think there’s anything about the Melbourne music scene that you think is unique to the city?

Bob: I think the enormity of it is incredible. There’s so many bands. I’m sure in New York and stuff it’s probably the same but compared to the rest of Australia it fuckin’ blows everyone out of the water.

Brent: I think it’s just intimidating how precise and tight and professional every band is in Melbourne.

Bob: Yeah, totally.

Brent: And those are all qualities that I do not respect in any way, at all.

Bob: How tight they are?

Brent: I don’t care. I remember growing up in Portland you’d have these four cats on stage banging away, totally out of time with each other, but then you’d catch a melody and a lyric and a chord, a drop and that’s what meant the most. Didn’t really matter how nifty it was. Melbourne’s music scene to me sounds very, very nifty. There’s a lot of niftiness going on.

Bob: Well yes and no, Fathead. Not bands like Batpiss and Cuntz and those sort of bands that are predominant now. They’re not that nifty.

Brent: Yeah I walk down Smith St you just hear, and it’s so tight. God it’s tight. And I just wonder how many thousands of hours does it take to get that tight? And for me, I just like the way it sounds when it turns from A Minor, to G. And then it rests on G and you hear a melody rise up and then it goes the D Minor and it hangs there for a second while that melody finds a conclusion, and you just go ‘oh my god’ and your heart breaks. And I was never for one moment through that whole entire journey noticing how connected the snare was to the bass, or how connected this was to that, or how perfectly in tune the harmonies were. I mean but boy I’ll tell you, and god bless them, but these Australian bands are so tight. How do they get this good? These bands are so good. These Australian bands man, boy are they fuckin’ tight.

Bob: In saying that though, we want that drum and bass tight.

Brent: Oh yeah our next record is going to sound like Chemical Brothers.

Wes Fahey

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