Interview: Zak Olsen, The Frowning Clouds
It's not entirely surprising that music with a sly hint of the sixties surf would come out of Geelong. Nor does it confound that a little motor city mayhem should infuse the sounds of that particular city. Melbourne's little sister, resplendent with sand and sea and home of the Ford factory, has given us a bevy of amazing music over her time and The Frowning Clouds continue that sterling tradition.
Forming when they were still in their teens, The Frowning Clouds have just released their second LP ‘Whereabouts’ and we were lucky enough to spend last Thursday evening in the company of lead singer Zak, who took us through the joys of Tasmanian camping, his love of sixties garage rock and the band’s burgeoning friendship with Rhys and Josh from the Horrors.
Hey Zak, thanks for the chat. By the looks of things you guys just got back from Tasmania, you were part of the Panama Music Festival over there?
Yeah we were and all of us had a really good time. We love Tasmania and were expecting it to be good but we were all totally inspired. It was a small festival, the line-up was really good and it’s just nice to go to a festival where it was less about getting wasted and more about the music and food. I’d rate it 10 out of 10.
Wow, that’s good to hear. It looks like there was a bit of a cross over with some of the acts for Golden Plains as well, since that was on the same weekend.
There was actually, it was a bit worried that we’d feel like we were missing out on something not being at Golden Plains, but I didn’t feel like that at all. I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else.
How has The Frowning Clouds style evolved?
Obviously I was only fifteen when we started and was so strictly into the idea of the Rolling Stones pretty much (laughs). So now I think things have broadened, I think things don’t sound ‘60s at all to us, I guess we are starting to hear all sorts of influences in our music. Most people would still hear a big ‘60s influence, I guess, but we’re just trying to make things sound cool.
But when you first started that’s what you were trying to make things sound retro?
Well that was all that we listened to. We had no tolerance for anything outside of 1964-1967. If it wasn’t recorded during that period then we didn’t want to know about it. It sounds dumb but back in high school I felt like I had a secret or knew more than anyone else because I was listening to nothing but this small period of music history.
What happened between those three years that made it so special?
I guess it was just the sound more than the songs. I remember when I first started getting into underground garage, the real American stuff; I just couldn’t believe it. All of those kids were the same age as me, 15 and 16, and I thought it was the coolest shit. I still love it and listen to it amongst other things. There was something about the naivety of it, those kids had no idea what they were doing and just thought that they were the best. Kind of what we were like at that age.
I read a really old interview where you were talking about getting signed to a Spanish record label because you were talking to someone online. What’s that story about?
We were talking on MySpace. I must have been around 15 or 16 and I was so into ‘60s music and found a lot of it on the Internet. Then you start talking to people with similar tastes and this young guy from Spain who was into the same stuff told me that his friend was starting a label and we had some songs and things just worked out.
And you’re still working with them?
Yeah, we’ve pretty much done everything with them. We’ve actually just received a new six-inch in the mail that was released by an Italian label but they were ok with it and gave their approval. It’s nice to put out releases on different labels, I think, and we got to record it here in Australia.
I guess it helps you spread your wings a little bit, doesn’t it?
Yeah, and there’s so many people around that have little labels. People with shitty jobs who run a label on the side, they’re always the best kind of labels and the best kind of people.
Can you please explain to me why on Youtube you’ve released all of your songs played together at the same time? It hurts my ears.
(Laughs) Well, I don’t know. It was a funny idea. It’s three minutes of really annoying noise and then at the end one of the songs goes for a minute longer than all of the rest. So you get a nice fade in at the end.
How did you get Rhys and Josh from the Horrors to remix the ‘Beetle Bird’ single?
We were playing a few shows in London and Rhys was there doing some DJing. We realised that we had the same taste in music and started hanging out and spent a weekend listening to records and talking about nerdy ‘60s music: the kind of conversation that nobody else would want to have. We started talking about some of the remixes that had been done of Horrors songs and I told him that he should remix one of ours. It was pretty cool.
Have you kept in touch?
Yeah, well we had to keep in touch to do the remix; we were sending ideas and whatnot.
The other thing that I wanted to ask you about was your album artwork, the band has been working with a guy named Jason Gallea?
He’s a cool guy from Werribee. I was playing in another band with some friends of mine and we got him to do a front cover for us, it was maybe around three years ago now and things just sort of went from there. He does heaps of artwork for lots of bands now
It looks like he’s been doing work with King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard.
Yeah, he works with them and he’s done some art for Saskwatch. He does whatever is good and it’s nice that he’s really busy.
His stuff is awesome.
Yeah, he’s really great. When we asked him to do the album cover he just said, “I’ll listen to the album and whatever inspires me I’ll draw a picture to it”, and then he sent us a rough copy which he said that he didn’t like at all and we were just like, “that’s it.”
And he’s been doing your posters as well?
He did this thing where he designed a poster and left blank space at the bottom so that we could reuse it. There are five different versions of posters and we can just choose which one we use, when - I’ve seen so many gig posters that are terrible.
Have you heard of the poster thing that Pearl Jam do where they get a local artist in each city they tour to design a poster and then sell it at their gigs?
Really? If you had those types of connections that’d be cool.
- Janey Umback