Northside Swag Unit performed a three song mini-set in the middle of Coolio and Housemouse’s single launch last month. Here’s a photo I took for the single artwork.The line-up – slimmed to a core collective of myself, Nick, Coolio and Housemouse – have been getting together the last few months for lyric-writing sessions. In that time, we’ve put words to a six track EP, with three tracks produced by Coolio and three by yours truly. It’s amazing hearing what the guys have come up with over my beats, and the trepidation I had for the lyric-writing sessions was completely unwarranted – they’ve been a blast! The songs are coalescing and everyone is upping their game trying to get the biggest laughs from each other. We’re anticipating a first quarter 2019 drop.
When I started learning drums, I expected it’d take a year before I would play with a band. That timeline was halved when Catherine offered Lulu and The Tantrums a late-night slot at Smiths in September. It was the best thing that could have happened for both the group and for my drumming. It forced me to quickly level up, and for us to turn the band from a much-discussed concept into an actual garage-rattling outfit.
Lulu and The Tantrums started over ten years ago, with me cajoling Lou into making a few songs together. The aim was something raw and reductive – I quickly came up with a nice ‘box’ for us to work within: one minute max, a riff and two couplets per song, and each song had to have the same drumbeat and single note guitar solo. From there, we wrote/recorded Fucknuckle almost simultaneously. Lou returned later to find me still futzing around with levels or something – when I suggested we write another one, she countered with, ‘how about you make my dinner, bitch?’.
Our second song was Make My Dinner Bitch.
We recorded ten songs (including a cover of Ramones Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue), and burned to CD a single copy of the ‘album’, gifted to Nick for his birthday that year. At his party, we played it twice through as everyone pogoed around the living room.
Lyrically, we were shooting for the stupidest, most obnoxious, ‘you can’t say that!’ stuff we could muster in the moment. Like early Beastie Boys, or Ramones, or Serge Gainsbourg, or Odd Future, or how Vice magazine used to offend both sides equally. Let me tell you, some of it has not aged well. At all. Which is fine, we only made it for ourselves and a handful of friends that understood the intent. Shoot forward ten years and it presented us with a dilemma when the idea came up to do the band ‘for real’ – will we do the old songs? Re-write the lyrics? Or what?
When I started drums, I had the Tantrums (or something ‘Tantrums-like’) in mind as a first goal. To my surprise, Lou was keen – she wanted to challenge herself to try something out of her comfort zone. I asked her who she wanted on guitar, and her first choice was Nick. He was on board straightaway, and has been nailing it ever since – it’s fun to be playing in a band together where we are both taking on unfamiliar roles, but leaning on that musical shorthand we’ve had for years. His guitar playing sounded good at the first practice, but he brought the Swollen Pickle to the next session, and well, now we have The Tantrums Sound. The weak link is me – having a looming gig was just what I needed to focus my practice. The tricky part wasn’t necessarily the beats themselves, it was getting them up to punk-rock tempos. Practicing for the gig accelerated my up-skilling and confidence on the kit – I’m much further ahead than if I was just tinkering away on my own. Still, I’m at that point now where I know enough to know how far I still have to go. But I’ve always believed the only way to learn is to do – and I can officially say I’m a drummer now!
It became obvious quickly that even if we played all the old songs, we didn’t have enough material for even half a set! We needed new material regardless. The first new song we wrote is School Reunion. We knocked it out in the half hour before Lou went to her actual 20 year high school reunion – she was dressed up ready to go and had time to kill before her ride showed. I love writing songs with Lou because it gets me out of my head and takes me down avenues I never would have thought – take the bridge to that song, ‘Driving to the function room, Alanis on the deck / Driving to the function room, Alanis Morrisette’. It’s a reference to the throwback high school playlist Lou intended to play on the way, and when combined with ‘function room’ – what a depressing phrase – it perfectly encapsulated the nostalgia and awkwardness of the night. In a million years, I would never have come up with that on my own!
The floodgates opened and we are honing in on about 12 new songs now – playing the old ones became moot. In the end, we’ve kept two – Fucknuckle and a zippy little number called I Like It In The Ass (I told you we were taboo-busting provocateurs of the highest order!). The new songs are more ‘us’ in any case, mined from our years of inside jokes and shared references. They draw on all my old touchstones – I’ve even snuck a country song in there! The original restrictions have fallen by the wayside too – in fact, and not without some irony, some of the newer ones are more expansive than nine-tenths of my catalogue. The latest song we wrote has a pre-chorus, an alternate chorus, a bridge and an extended singalong outro! For my part, I think it’s a reaction to all of the loop-based, computer-bound music I have been doing – being able to switch things up is a breath of fresh air. And as a drummer, it’s easier to play that kind of stuff than to program it.
A handful of practice sessions under our belt, we hit the Smiths stage at about a quarter to midnight on a Wednesday night. Catherine had booked an eclectic range of acts, with us to finish. Lou was paranoid she would forget the lyrics. Seasoned professionals that we are, Nick and I knew fucking up on stage is just par for the course, but our sage-like advice was the last thing she wanted to hear. It was a receptive crowd, and I am pleased to say we – especially Lou – crushed it. People were on-board from the start, laughing and singing along immediately. Chris Gleeson filmed the set and I have watched it repeatedly, beaming – I am so proud of all of us.
Our next gig followed in November. Our love for Coolio Desgracias and Housemouse is no secret – when they asked us to support them, it was a bucket-list level achievement. We expanded the set with three new songs – two originals (our best yet), plus a cover of The Scientists’ Frantic Romantic. I am so late to Frantic Romantic, discovering it serendipitously only this year in Japan.
Lou has already grown in leaps and bounds as a performer. At the first gig, she stood stock-still, hands in pockets. I gave her a few ‘challenges’ in our following practices, like telling her she had to keep singing while jumping around on the furniture. By her own admission, this foolishness worked – she was much more free and confident when we hit the stage. I, on the other hand, was more nervous than last time – Coolio (aka Simon Milman) is also my drum teacher, and I didn’t want to disappoint sensei. I definitely made more boo-boos than the first gig (often the case with second gigs!), but pulled through. The new songs were instant hits – the crowd was singing along to Riesling For Living by the time the second chorus rolled around.
This band is so much fun and I’m excited to see where it goes next – personally, I would love LOVE to record an album next year!