Mansfield rockers Violent Soho just sold out two shows at The Tivoli and announced a third, as anticipation builds to a fever pitch for the group’s fourth album, WACO. They’re not taking any of this for granted — because they’ve been on top of the world before, and they had it all taken away from them.
In 2009, on the strength of one EP and an album, the Brisbane garage band signed a deal with alternative rock legend Thurston Moore’s label, Ecstatic Peace! Records, a subsidiary of Universal. They were a band on the cusp of stardom in the United States, they’d hit the major label jackpot, and they got to do it all under the direction of one of their musical heroes.
By 2011, they’d parted ways with the label, and they were back in Brisbane, like four particularly rough Cinderellas after the clock struck midnight.
“The band was close to breaking up, in reality,” frontman and songwriter Luke Boerdam remembers. “I remember our tour manager in the States, he saw what was going on in the band, and he knew we were going to end up back home. On our last night with him, he said, ‘You guys need to go home, take three months off and regroup. Just work out what the f**k you want to do. Because America is pretty full-on, and you’re not from here, and you can’t keep doing this with no results.’
“When we got home, there was this weird lull. We didn’t know what to do. There was no direction from anyone. You hear it all the time when you hear other bands talk about being on an American major label — you think you’re going to get this huge team, or at least some support, something to help the band along. And that’s not what happens. You just get thrown into this pile of 100 bands and you’re on their to-do list on Monday, like, ‘Oh, I have to contact that band today and see what’s going on with them’, and that’s it. That’s the major label.
“It sucked to come home. I was back in my parents’ house with my girlfriend. It was just horrible. I’d done so much work, I’d given up everything, I’d given up my job — everyone had given up their jobs and dropped everything to go to America. [Bassist Luke] Henery had moved over there while he was still deep in debt; he had debt collectors all over him in America. We gave up so much, went through so much s**t, and then we ended up back where we started. Or it felt like where we’d started, anyway.
“I think going through all that spat us out the other end and made us a better band, and made us want to take advantage of the fact we still had something to work with in Australia. There was still some fanbase there, there were still some people interested in the band.”
That, right there, is what they call an understatement.
The band signed with Melbourne-based indie label I Oh You in 2013, and recorded their third record, Hungry Ghost, with local producer (and tree lopper) Bryce Moorhead in a converted shed in Windsor. It may not have been as glamorous as their set-up in the States, but the results spoke for themselves.
The album raced up sales charts and was hailed as one of the best Australian releases of the year, while breakout single Covered In Chrome finished in the Top 20 of the Triple J Hottest 100. More than that, though, the album’s accompanying tour firmly established the group as one of the nation’s best live acts, as they played incendiary shows and sold out venues around the country, connecting with an insatiable fanbase that can’t seem to get enough of them.
The bar for the group’s fourth album, then, has been set awfully high.
“The reality is there was pressure, even though people always like to say there wasn’t,” Luke admits.
“I remember Johann [Ponniah], the guy who runs our label, calling me like, ‘Hey, man, what are you up to, how are you going? Hey, do you have any songs? How’s that going?’ So of course there’s pressure. You release a record like Hungry Ghost, and all of a sudden there’s a team of people who are relying on your next record to keep their label going. It works both ways, though, because you also get way more support, and you get more of a budget to make the record.
“You know, we’ve been a band for 11 years. We’ve gone through enough s**t where we’ve bowed to pressure or taken on what other people say we should do, and it didn’t have some awesome impact, it didn’t help the band one bit. So we’ve learned that you just have to do what you want to do.
“I like to think we’ve earned enough respect that we can go to a label now and say, ‘This is how we’re recording it, and this is how long it’s going to take’. We just keep them informed, and they know we’ll deliver a record. They don’t need to worry. We put enough pressure on ourselves and we have enough drive to deliver something. They’re not going to show up to the studio and find us strung out on heroin on the couch, like, ‘Oh no, we forgot to record anything!'”
The resulting record, WACO, is named after the Texan town where the Branch Davidian cult staged a bloody standoff with federal law enforcement and the US military in the early ’90s.
“When I think of WACO, I think of a faraway, dark place,” Luke explains.
“It’s distant, and it’s got some dark secrets to tell. I just couldn’t shake off WACO as a title, because it gives it an identity, it encapsulates everything in one word.
“When I listen back to it, I feel like this record is the older, darker sister of Hungry Ghost. That album was all about escapism. Some of the songs were just about getting high. It wasn’t too heavy. It was just scratching the surface of this other reality we’d created for ourselves, whereas WACO digs in deep.
“It’s about what we feed ourselves to create this illusion that we’re in control, when we’re not in control at all. Every song deals with that, in a way.”
WACO is certainly a heavier record than Hungry Ghost — but after 11 years together, there’s no guarantee the band will continue going in that direction next time around.
“I think there’s room for Violent Soho to change and move on,” Luke says.
“Every band should do that. I mean, it’d be amazing if we’ve still got moshpits when we’re 50. But Violent Soho will keep making records, and if they get softer, that’s okay.
“If there’s anything we’ve learned, it’s that we have to make the records we feel like making at the time, and deliver on that, not what people want or what people expect. So I’m not scared of Violent Soho growing out of our sound or becoming more mature. It doesn’t bother me at all. As long as the music’s good, that’s the main thing.
“As long as there’s a progression, and it’s natural, and it’s still really good, I’m happy. As long as it doesn’t just get really s**t. We’d rather break up, in that case. We’d rather break up than put out s**t music.”
WACO will be released on Friday 18 March.
Tickets are available now for Violent Soho’s show at The Tivoli on Tuesday 10 May, following sold-out shows on Wednesday 11 May and Friday 13 May. UPDATE: Violent Soho have now sold out all three of their Brisbane shows! We’ll let you know if a fourth is announced.