Tropical Fuck Storm have been very busy. Braindrops, the band’s second album, is out in late August. The band’s overseas audience is still enamoured with their debut LP, A Laughing Death in Meatspace. However, frontperson Gareth Liddiard thinks something else explains their growing international profile.
“It just seems like there’s some kind of zeitgeist with Australian bands,” he says. “It sort of happens once every 20 years or some shit. People get interested in bands from these parts. It’s just our turn. There’ll be a two year window and then we’ll see what happens.”
Liddiard formed TFS in 2017 with his partner and fellow ex-Drones member, Fiona Kitschin. Determined to play more and pfaff less, the pair recruited drummer Lauren Hammel (High Tension) and guitarist/vocalist Erica Dunn (MOD CON) and hit the ground running.
“One of the hassles with The Drones was all the boys were very busy all the time,” says Liddiard, who fronted The Drones for nearly two decades. “And it’s a big organisation, it’s just hard to get it going and get it moving at speed. With the girls it’s really fucking easy. They don’t have kids and all that shit, so we’re just taking advantage of that. And the whole point is to play and record, so if we’ve got time to do it, we’ll just do it. I’m a musician, they’re musicians – what else are we meant to do?”
On a record of searing vitality, ‘The Future of History’ was one of A Laughing Death’s standout cuts. An examination of chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov’s ill-fated contest with the IBM supercomputer, Deep Blue, it’s at once hilarious and devastating. Liddiard’s signature predilection towards a mixture of ridiculous, ugly, disturbing and funny is reflected in the music he listens to, as well.
“Whether it’s pop or classical or anything, a bit of dry humour or a cynical outlook, it’s just more fun,” he says. “Would you go and see a movie where everyone’s happy? No, fuck that. You’d rather go and see a movie where everything gets messy. Whether it’s Bob Dylan or Shostakovich, in all that kind of stuff it can be really heavy and fucked up but then there’s also wit, there’s something funny. “
A Laughing Death was an immensely compelling release, but Braindrops feels more dynamically varied and musically and intellectually comprehensive. The band has perceptibly grown into itself a bit more.
“The first record is the first record and we’re just figuring out what it’s all about and what we’re all about and everyone’s position,” Liddiard says. “There’s dynamics in a band; who can do what, who’s good at this and who’s good at that. Then the second record, we’ve played a lot and we’ve been around the world a hundred times with each other now, so we knew what we were getting into and how to do it.
“Then, as well, with Erica there’s someone who is a songwriter in the band. So I can lean on her and say, 'I’ve got the music for this song, you go and write the words.’ I’ve never felt like I always needed to be always front-and-centre. It just worked out like that because I was the only one qualified to do that. I’m quite happy to let someone else sing, I’m quite happy to play someone else’s song.”
Braindrops embraces bountiful sonic and thematic ugliness, which will surprise absolutely no one familiar with Liddiard’s back catalogue. But the interplay between his vocals and those of Dunn and Kitschin injects light into proceedings. Dunn and Kitschin’s vocals are too central to be described as BVs – a stylistic ploy modeled on the work of Leonard Cohen and Fela Kuti.
“With the Leonard Cohen thing, he’s obviously not super macho but there’s a masculinity there; he’s gruff and then the female vocal is really nice. But then the Fela Kuti thing I found more interesting because he’s obviously quite a macho sounding dude and then the female singers aren’t backing singers – they’re like guitars or something.
“It’s not accompaniment, it’s up front. Like, say, Jimi Hendrix – his guitar is not an accompaniment to his voice. It’s out there as well. That was the idea. I’ve got a real gruff voice and they set it off really nice. I’m just a guitar player who sings because I have to. So I’m happy for Fi and Erica to fuckin’ sing whatever they want.”
Braindrops arrives August 23 via Flightless. Catch Tropical Fuck Storm on tour this October.