Track By Track: Violent Soho ‘Hungry Ghost’
Escaping normality, Hungarian uprisings, outcasts, French Marxist theorists and traditional Chinese Buddhism – Luke Boerdam gives FL an exclusive insight into the ideas that inspired Violent Soho’s new album Hungry Ghost
Despite their “party hard” reputation and raucous sound Violent Soho’s third album Hungry Ghost deals with some seriously disparate themes. The track ‘Lowbrow’ explores feelings of suburban ennui, while new single ‘Covered In Chrome’ began its life as a Wikipedia entry about the 1956 Hungarian uprising. “Throughout the record I play with the idea of escaping a masked reality” frontman Luke Boerdom told FL. “I like to explore this concept that we live in a form of hyper-consumer reality and we lack an authentic human experience.”
Recorded in their hometown of Brisbane at a studio called The Shed and mixed in New York at Fluxivity Recordings by John Agnello (Dinosaur Jr, Sonic Youth, The Hold Steady), the album sees Violent Soho break out of the traditionally hard rock sound that has defined their last two recordings – We Don’t Belong Here (2008) and Violent Soho (2010).
Ahead of Hungry Ghost’s September 6 launch, Boerdam gave FL an exclusive insight into each track on the new album.
‘Dope Calypso’ was one of those songs that came together from pieces of musical scrap. I was working on multiple guitar parts and lyrics as different songs and one morning out of frustration I mixed it into a melting pot and it magically glued together. I basically culminated the lyrics from taking scrap notes while walking to work in the morning. I remember Dean Turner (good friend and manager at the time) made a joke that skyscrapers are the “cathedrals of capitalism …trophy relics that represent man’s power over the world”. I love riffs that sound like they can destroy buildings, and I felt like this was one of them. The lyrics are a random mishmash of notes and reflections about identity and deserting normality. I have never written a song that naturally felt like a solid opener until this one – as soon as I wrote the riff I knew we could add 30 seconds of layered atmospheric sounds and bring the whole band in on a single snare hit – a lot of fun to play live!
This song is about the middle-class and authenticity, an attack on all things highbrow and plastic. Throughout the record I play with the idea of escaping a masked reality. I like to explore this concept that we live in a form of hyper-consumer reality and we lack an authentic human experience (Google Guy Debord for more!). I feel like this is embedded in punk music a lot, and when people come to our shows and break everything (including our gear) they are acting out against this – that the world doesn’t really offer a tangible experience – so they make one. This song is basic and straight to the point and it’s meant to be. (Listen out for the sweet dive-bombs in the lead guitar break – I love that shit!)
Covered in Chrome
I pulled imagery and ideas from Wikipedia articles on the Hungarian uprising in 1956 (I have no idea why I ended up reading about it). There was this intense moment when 200,000 protesters walked on a parliament building. After their demands were refused they pulled down and demolished a statue of Stalin that was built on the site of an old church. They stuffed Hungarian flags in the statute’s boots – the only remaining part of the bronze monument. I guess the song is about the power that can be wielded from ideas, and contrasting that with a guy asking for a “simple life” while unravelling the human vacuum he finds himself in. He’s turning around and asking “What the fuck happened?”
In The Aisle
There is this guy that walks into my friends bar (Southside – a rad bar in Brisbane) everyday with a kanga cricket bat and demands that they makes tea with black and gold tea bags. I just found this character fascinating. In a few songs I try and focus on outsider suburban characters that are usually hidden and outcast by society, reenacting tapping into their reality and what they view as normal. More interestingly, it asks a question about our reality and insecurities. It’s kinda like a big “fuck you” to everyone else for living normally and putting these people on a steeple for living outside any preconceived notion of how we should act/feel. It’s like they live out our alter-egos for us, while we hide behind a sheet of normality.
I read an article in Adbusters about a girl who took party drugs (a lot of them) because she said the generation before us fucked the planet over for good. Life is meaningless, so the current generation should go out with a bang. She wasn’t an idiot; she literally quoted the facts about global warming, peak oil etc. and also justified her collection of 100 pairs of very expensive shoes with an ultra-consumer “me-first” mantra. This girl became the character for ‘Saramona Said’, and the same idea floats through other songs. I just find this viewpoint extremely interesting. Rather than admitting to the flaws of human desire, they embrace them with pride. I hate it, but in a way it points out shallowness of lot of how we live our lives anyway. We do what she does, we just don’t have a mantra that goes with it. This was one of the first songs written for the record and it kind of set the standard. It was different for us and we liked how it builds through the whole song and isn’t stuck in the usual soft-loud dynamic.
This song is about escapism. I kept telling Bryce (our producer) it had to sound like you were sitting in an old gigantic church. There is something amazing about these spaces; they have a heavy presence that feels like a blanket thrown over yourself you can’t shake off. In the end it took three days to do the lead guitars. I experimented with running the guitar through expensive modelling pedals like the Eventide Space, then screwing up the sound with a volume pedal and ZVEX fuzz factory. We just kept layering heavy swells and sustained notes, then one day we sat back and listened to the track and Bryce and I agreed we wouldn’t touch it again. It had organically grown into something you couldn’t possibly plan or sketch out. It’s become one of my personal favourites Violent Soho has ever recorded.
I got the idea for ‘Fur Eyes’ from illustrations in the graphic novel Black Hole by Charles Burns. The story contains teenage characters that get bizarre physical mutations – Burns did illustrations of them in a school photo portrait format. I can’t even remember if there was a character that had “Fur Eyes” but either way I remember having this imagery in my mind when writing the lyrics. The song has an odd alt-country feel to it – which is a bit odd for our band, but since playing it live together in rehearsal we were drawn to its stripped back and simplistic guitar lines. It felt refreshing having a song that barely makes use of distortion or subversive/aggressive lyrics – I think we picked up this approach from touring with Built to Spill in America – they had a real impression on us.
Black Hole by Charles Burns
What can I say – visit the GC and find out for yourself! In the end I’m just repeating what Midnight Oil did with ‘Dreamworld’.
This was a fun song to record – heaps of layered delays with raw telecaster guitar parts. Lyrically I was reminiscing about driving through the suburbs of Brisbane on one of those hot summery Sunday afternoons.
Two songs – ‘Eightfold’ and ‘Gold Coast’ – came together the week we were heading into the studio. Going into pre-production we felt the record was getting too soft for our liking and we had thrown away so many of the heavier tracks. I stumbled through some riffs I was working on and the band said “What the hell are you doing – finish those songs now!” I literally finished writing the songs in pre-production and didn’t have lyrics until I started vocals in the studio. Having played two shows with Cloud Nothings definitely helped shaped these songs – they’ve become one only favourite bands recently.
I got the name from a Kelle Lasn book called Culture Jam. From memory the term went something like this: “We sit around on couches, buying what we think makes us who we are, like a hungry ghost”. I looked up hungry ghost and it actually comes from traditional Chinese Buddhism. It means to have a non-shakable addiction/desire, and you lose yourself to that desire, you lose your identity. The song itself paints imagery of two lovers swimming in a remote quarry with some stacks in the background – they build their own world away from normality and everything else, as if they are trying to escape the ghost. I wanted it to be quiet, dark and paint a feeling of hopelessness. Something like R.E.M’s ‘Nightswimming’, but less sentimental, I guess. In the studio we went through several versions before deciding on a mixture of acoustic and electric guitar and cutting the song in half – so it just constantly built tension.
Violent Soho Hungry Ghost album tour
Thursday, October 24 – The Northern, Byron Bay
Friday, October 25 – OAF, Sydney
Saturday, October 26 – The Zoo, Brisbane
Thursday, October 31 – Mojos, Fremantle
Friday, November 1 – Amplifier, Perth
Saturday, November 2 – Uni Bar, Adelaide
Monday, November 4 – The Corner, Melbourne