About four years ago, Jimi Kritzler got totally fed up with colour-by-number music journalism. The kind of writing that mindlessly categorises, patronises and strips its subjects of their humanity in favour of projecting the gloss that drips from boilerplate press releases. Kritzler was only 25 at the time (he’s 29 now) but he’d already seen his fair share of Australia’s music landscape – having started going to gigs as barely a high school freshman, he went on to cut his journalism teeth at a local Brisbane radio station while shredding long term for bands including White Hex and Slug Guts. By this point he’d had enough conversations with fellow musicians riding the dirty underground of the country’s music scene to know that what was being printed wasn’t going far enough.
Noise In My Head: Voices from the Ugly Australian Underground is Jimi’s answer to this industry gap. Much more than a book, it’s a celebration, via the dirty, tear-streaked and hopelessly joyful stories of some of Australia’s most listened to – and often least heralded – underground artists. There’s HTRK (featured in our new issue), Kirin J Callinan, Twerps, Forces, Circle Pit, Fabulous Diamonds, Dick Diver, Radical Miracle… Fifty bands shed their outer skins for Jimi, no easy feat. As Kritzler here explains, it’s no How-To guide, nor is it a glorification of the supposed ‘hedonistic’ lifestyles lived by those who get on stage for a living. It’s just a no bullshit account of the creed abided by those who make and live music in the land of Oz.
Tempe Nakiska: What’s your background?
Jimi Kritzler: I was in White Hex, journalist. I stumbled upon this idea that all these bands have formed a renaissance of sort. They’re unique and phenomenal in Australia and I was reading all these interviews that were just by the number, the journalists weren’t even scraping the surface. I knew a lot of these bands and I knew there was a lot more to be told about them, a lot of stories. There was so much more to be asked and revealed. The book covers 50 bands and I could have done another 40, there are so many great acts out there.
TN: It’s interesting what you say about the number of interviews. You really get down to a lot of darker issues in the book, how did you get such honesty?
JK: That’s more the negative side of it and there’s just as much a positive side to get out. I think it was just having that relationship and knowing them, even just simple things like actually doing research! Not one person, not one band shied away from a question. When you’re asking such personal questions about stuff that is so intimate and personal – be it the death of a band member or suicide attempts, awful shit – and then hilarious stuff, the idiot stuff that goes on when you’re on tour, stuff goes badly and you can only look back and laugh. It’s just going past the basic press release and those awful questions that you often come across in music journalism.
TN: What’s the common thread that runs between the bands?
JK: It’s not a sound, it’s not an overarching scene. It’s basically just the sheer fact that all these bands and artists are doing something unique themselves, something that has longevity. Something that’s remarkable and interesting and above all it pays no heed to trend. It’s a reflection of the people in the bands. That’s ultimately the most important thing. All of these bands have succeeded in doing that.
TN: How do you work out whether a band’s image is part of, or separate to, their music? Were you conscious of cutting through this? Can a band ever not give a shit about their image?
JK: Aesthetic is such an important part of music, for any band. Even if you’re a band that says “we don’t give a fuck about our aesthetic” that is in a way having an image, an aesthetic. You look at any phenomenal band over the past forty years – Royal Trux, even Albert Ayler or something, The Stones – they have an image, yet they’re all very unique. You can argue this whole thing of authenticity but I don’t buy into it, what’s authentic to a person isn’t to another. It’s redundant. An image is integrated into the music since day one.
TN: How do you feel the underground scene has shifted since you were first exposed to it in the late 1990s?
JK: I think first of all bands and music became popular on a larger scale – more normal people got into weirder music today, because it’s easier to find. You could argue that happened back in the early 1990s but later on there were more people creating music. With that comes bad bands but also a plethora of genius by the same token. There’s a lot more going on today, more people, more access. You could be thirteen years old today and be getting into Brigette Fontaine or the Residents because the level of access is higher.
TN: It’s also testament to the power of the internet. Has technology made it easier for talent to get out there?
JK: Probably, yeah. It’s easier for a band to form and for people to hear them. But I don’t think it makes it any easier to be a good band. It doesn’t make it any easier to make a great song. But there’s such an over-abundance of music now that it suffocates itself, it’s kind of back to square one.
TN: And on that note, you’ve got the likes of HTRK put up against Kirin J Callinan in your book, whose music is totally indescribable. There’s a lot of variety here.
JK: Kirin JC and HTRK are both examples of musicians doing something completely unique. Each of [HTRK]’s albums is a progression from the next yet it sounds like themselves. Kirin’s own performance method is insane in itself, he will be up on stage staring one person in the eye for ten minutes and then spell an aggressive shard of noise from his guitar. Whatever it is he does, he does it really well. He’s getting out of the ghetto of the smalltime, too, he’s collaborating with Dev Hynes and all these people who will only take him further internationally. All these musicians are releasing records that are accurate and true to their own ‘thing’.
TN: Artists like that are often special in the way that they can’t be boxed into categories, they can’t be boxed so easily. That seems to be a common denominator between yours profiled.
JK: I think that’s a good thing. There’s this thing called ‘dolewaves’ all these critics are pushing at the moment, it pisses me off. It’s this utterly redundant argument that all these Flying Nun-esque bands (who aren’t even like Flying Nun) are all coming under dolewaves. All these bands are just writing these songs which reflect their own situations in a fairly honest way. It’s almost patronising to label them like this. I think so anyway…
TN: I think that’s the nature of marketing and the media though, there’s this ever-present need to categorise everything. Which can stifle creativity to an extent.
JK: It’s an age old discussion, it’s a way to make things more palatable or easier to understand for the consumer. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter though, if somebody puts out an album that’s phenomenal and unique then having a critic label it as something really doesn’t effect anything at the end of the day. That ties back to what I wanted to do, to go beyond the music and talk about these people’s lives, what they’ve experienced and what goes on behind it all. What it actually is to be in a band. It’s not this gloriously hedonistic experience many people think it is. It runs the full gamete of being the only thing you want to do and the one thing that will end up killing you.
Noise In My Head: Voices from the Ugly Australian Underground is out now, available from Melbourne Books.