When STACK does coffee with Jenny McKechnie and Shauna Boyle from Cable Ties, they discuss carrying the rage across from their debut, self-titled album into their second set, Far Enough, which navigates all of the things that are happening in the world that you should be legitimately angry about.
Inside a coffee house in the buzzing inner-city Melbourne suburb of Brunswick, vocalist/guitarist Jenny McKechnie and drummer Shauna Boyle take thoughtful sips from their long blacks. Cable Ties are still angry, they confirm, but on Far Enough, McKechnie reveals, “It‘s about being more self-reflective and analysing your position within society and how you are contributing to – or how you can help assist to dismantle – the systems of oppression and runaway capitalism; it contributes to all of the things that are happening.“
McKechnie tells us Far Enough explores “themes to do with hopelessness and feeling doomed, and dealing with issues with mental health, and also the struggle between individualism and turning all of your criticism in on yourself and not being able to connect with other people and take effective collective action.“
Listening to this record will undoubtedly open up some important conversations. Tell Them Where To Go – which was released as a 7“ in March 2018, but also appears on the punk trio‘s upcoming second album – was written while the band was volunteering at Girls Rock! and would certainly work well as a theme song for this national network of camps, which are designed to empower girls, trans and gender-diverse young people through music education and mentorship.
Boyle volunteered at the first Girls Rock! in Melbourne and Cable Ties were invited to play a lunchtime concert for the campers. “The campers form bands and then write their own songs for the camp, so I was kind of like, ‘Well, why don‘t we write a song for camp?‘ And the song came together within half an hour,“ she tells. “I was teaching drums at the camp and one of my campers was just an extremely enthusiastic person who hadn’t played the drums before, but just wanted to play all the crazy fills and big rock‘n‘roll moves. With the inspiration from that camper, I wrote the drum part for [Tell Them Where To Go], because I just thought, ‘That‘s what you wanna do, you want to make it big and hectic!‘ So it‘s always really fun to play, and it‘s pretty special.“
“It was a different writing process for us, because normally we can take a really long time to write a song,“ McKechnie marvels. “We were just super blown away by the fact that the campers could write a song within a week, when they were just learning their instruments and, you know, they‘re teenagers and they‘re put in a band with a bunch of people they‘ve never met before! And somehow they manage to learn a cover and create an original song. And I was like, ‘I couldn‘t do that!‘ It‘s just crazy, it‘s so good.“
When asked whether she noticed any recurring themes in the songs these Girls Rock! campers crafted, Boyle reveals: “Oh, yeah, all the time. First of all, I‘ll just say that the things that they were writing songs about were just… it was heartbreaking and also so exciting. Because I feel like, as a teenager, I wasn‘t so well-connected with society and politics and current affairs and all these kind of things. And they‘re writing songs about climate change and about feminism and about world affairs and about their relationships and all of this stuff that I just wasn‘t really aware of when I was that age. It was so exciting to know that if young people are talking about making change now – when they‘re, like, 14 or 15 years old – then that‘s really exciting.
“So to say that young people are apathetic is just disgusting, really. These young people are so well-informed and so well-educated, because if they have an interest in something then they have the ultimate resource [the internet] to be able to teach themselves about things. Young people are experts on topics before they‘ve even gotten to high school.”
Far Enough‘s closing track, Pillow, contains a lyrical phrase that perfectly describes this sentiment: “I‘m often feeling doomed/ But don‘t mistake that feeling for apathy.“ McKechnie explains, “That kinda came about because of an interview I was doing with the first [self-titled] album. Some interviewer asked me, ‘Do you think that young people today are apathetic?‘ and I was kind of like, ‘No. What do you mean?‘ It sort of made me think about that, and the fact that sometimes young people get told that they‘re just obsessed with themselves and they don‘t care about anything else, and they can‘t go out and protest or do anything worthwhile. There‘s so much crap that goes around and gets flung at young people! That song‘s about all of the challenges that young people face with climate change, and changes to the labour system, and increased casualisation of the workforce, and facing an oncoming recession, and everything that‘s happening. And, in the face of that, young people are incredibly resilient, are fighting and are doing a lot. It‘s no wonder that sometimes you feel doomed in the face of all of that! But it doesn‘t mean you don‘t care.“
Pillow is also the perfect example of a Cable Ties song that took ages to pin down. “I started writing that when I was 25,“ McKechnie observes. “It says in the first verse, ‘I‘m 25,‘ and then it says, ‘I‘m 26,‘ and I was actually 25 and 26 when I wrote [those respective lyrics]… We took a few passes at recording that song.“
“It was a bit of a headache, but I think it‘s turned out really well,“ Boyle commends. McKechnie adds: “I think Hope, the first song, was the one that probably made me have the most tantrums [laughs]. I got sent to the isolation booth for a little while for some time out ‘cause I couldn‘t listen to it anymore. We nearly put trumpet in it!“ Boyle chuckles, “That‘s right! Paul [Maybury, producer] probably still has the stems for the trumpet part.“
Maybury also produced Cable Ties‘ debut self-titled set and McKechnie extols, “I worked with him with my old band, Wet Lips – he‘s just the best. We love the studio to start with: it‘s this big warehouse in Fairfield just full of all these incredible old vintage amps and organs.“ Adds Boyle:“There‘s a bucket full of miscellaneous guitar pedals with no names on them; Jenny will be doing overdubs for a particular song, and we‘re thinking, ‘Oh, we kind of want something that sounds a little bit like this,‘ and he‘ll just walk out into the studio. We‘re like, ‘Where‘d Paul go? Oh, okay…‘ and then he‘ll come back: ‘Alright. Here‘s this pedal, go plug it in and see what you reckon of this one.‘ It‘s got no markings on it or anything, you just don‘t know what it‘s gonna be like [until] you plug it in. And that‘s the formula that you need.“
“It‘s quite an unconventional way of recording, I guess, to have an album that‘s recorded with all of the instruments in a room so close to each other, playing at the same time. But Paul has also played in bands for decades and has come and seen us play multiple times from when we were a little band all the way up to what we are doing now,“ Boyle shares, “and he understands what we want to capture and how we play live and how we want to sound. So there‘s none of this isolating everything, and making it super-crisp and clean, and then mashing it all together. It‘s really just like, ‘Go in there, do what you do, play as hard as you can, we‘ll just capture everything and then pick the best one that we‘ve got.'”
Although Boyle admits they find it difficult to listen back to all of the different versions – “Oh, there‘s a little fluff there, or a mistake there“ – she concedes, “But I think that‘s what gives such humanity to the record as well; it really sounds like there‘s people playing the instruments. And when you hear those little imperfections it really – I dunno, it‘s just something that I have grown to love so much. Because it‘s real humans giving their full emotion and energy into a real, palpable thing.“
McKechnie opines, “If you put us in a modern recording situation…“ Boyle interjects with a laugh: “Oh, we‘d just melt down!“ McKechnie adds, “Well, we‘d melt down, but also we would just drain all of the blood out of the band. If I listened back to us recorded to a click track, individually tracked, I would hate it! It wouldn‘t be a band I‘m into. So it‘s a really essential part of the whole sound.“
Far Enough by Cable Ties is out Friday March 27 via Poison City.
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