On a beautiful June afternoon, Dan Bonnici sits in the Flagstaff gardens on his break from working at a life insurance company where in his words he “gives money to grieving families.” A contrast then, to his other job as the bass player in one Australia’s noisiest and rowdiest blackened rock bands, Pagan.
Their debut album Black Wash is a collection of 11 songs that serve as a loud and cathartic 35-minute burst of energy. “Either myself or Xavier will come up with an idea and we’ll make that as extensive as possible before showing everyone to make sure there’s something to work with,” Bonnici says. “We don’t argue as a band but we do tease things out and question whether an idea is actually good. When the band agrees not to use your riff, it can be a bit heartbreaking but we’re good at filtering out what’s going to make a good Pagan song.”
Black Wash is something that Pagan have been building towards, intending it to stand as a statement and a body of work that they could be proud of. “From the start to the middle when you turn over the record, and then till the very end, we wanted to make it a consistent album,” says Bonnici.
“We wanted to make it stand up as an album in its entirety. That comes from listening to a lot of ‘70s dad rock and sitting with a record for an hour and letting it be an experience. I don’t know if that’s the best way to make a record in this modern climate but we really wanted to make it a consistent body of work.”
The hard work has paid off, as sitting down with Black Wash for its entirety is indeed a cohesive journey. Interestingly, although it feels as if the music has been recorded in a specific moment in time, according to Bonnici the recording process was not without its difficulties. “We cut up those sessions so much I was worried it wasn’t going to work,” he admits.
After things came up in their producer Mike Deslandes’ personal life, a spanner was thrown in the works. Recorded across two different studios at varying intervals, the band did whatever it took to make it work. “There was no one else in the world we wanted to make that record with. For pulling it together the way he did, we owe him the world and we’re so happy he got to do it with us,” says Bonnici.
Long-time fans of the band might notice two familiar songs on the record, ‘Wine and Lace’ and ‘Imitate Me’. These songs were released prior to the album being recorded and have been given a facelift for Black Wash.
“We didn’t know if we wanted [‘Wine and Lace’] on there or not,” says Bonnici. “For me that song marks a turning point for us in terms of songwriting. It was the first song we experimented with dance beats and implementing that into our music. A time when we realised we wanted to be a band that tours and makes records and not just play The Tote once and break up.”
Black Wash is out now via EVP. Pagan are touring nationally in August.