When news broke in February of 2012 that Children Collide were set to lose drummer Ryan Caesar, it seemed as though the end of the group was nigh. Suddenly, the lyrics from “Arrows” seemed all-too prescient: “We all took it for granted that you’d always be around,” the group had sung just two years previous.
While Caesar explained that the “band can not function as it should”, the group issued a press release explaining that while “relationship between band members Ryan and Johnny [Mackay, vocalist and guitarist] has over the years disintegrated”, Children Collide would continue on following a planned national tour, albeit with a different drummer in their ranks.
Sadly, it was following the conclusion of their Monument tour (supported by then-nascent outfits Bad//Dreems and Dune Rats) that the first era of Children Collide came to an end, even if the band themselves didn’t realise it.
“I didn’t think I was going to play again. I thought that was it,” explains Caesar via Zoom, close to a decade after the fact. “That’s why I was such a legend about leaving [laughs]. But I left, and then we did a whole really long tour after that. And I feel like things began to get better from the start of that tour.”
Admitting he was “pretty sick of drums and being in bands almost full-stop”, Caesar instead turned his focus to new outfit Pearls, while Mackay moved over to New York City, relatively certain that Children Collide would continue once he returned to Australia at some point in the future.
“It was weird,” Mackay recalls of the band’s final months. “It just built to this weird place where there were all kinds of egos and agendas and pressures, and even what chart positions the record was going to come in at. Dumb shit like that. None of us were being our best selves, even the people around us, the vibes got weirder and weirder.
“Personally I felt like it was all giving me cancer, and I needed to leave Australia, and I really felt strongly about moving to New York. Ryan had left and I thought the band would keep going. I went to New York and it was maybe a year or two into that that I realised, well there was no [announcement of] ‘The band’s over’, I just looked around and went, ‘Oh shit, the band’s over’.”
“There was no [announcement of] ‘The band’s over’, I just looked around and went, ‘Oh shit, the band’s over’.”
Turning his own focus onto his Fascinator project, it appeared as though the lessening of the internal pressures felt at the end of Children Collide’s existence had subsided completely, with Mackay and Caesar finding themselves reconnecting in New York City. Soon enough, the pair had convinced bandmate and bassist Heath Crawley to join them for a pair of reunion shows that would take place at the end of 2014 and start of 2015.
Despite these gigs being billed as one-off events, fans found themselves being surprisingly treated to new material at these shows. In fact, the group’s Sydney date saw the inclusion of four previously-unheard songs – “Aurora”, “Funeral for A Ghost”, “Return to Femmes”, and “Turrets” – in their setlist. Slight confusion reigned in regards to whether this one-off event would lead to a full-time reunion, or if fans had just simply been teased with the promise of what they could never have.
Behind the scenes though, the seeds were indeed being sown for what would become the band’s second coming.
“I was kind of reticent at first because Johnny and I were both quite busy at the time, and I think that’s why it took a few years to get things going,” Caesar admits. “I just had a couple of releases and Johnny was working on some stuff. But I think we kind of just talked about it all the time since then.”
“There were three of us [in the band],” explains Mackay. “Two of us had kept doing music as our main thing we did, and the other one of us had carved out this whole other life.”
“There were three of us [in the band]. Two of us had kept doing music as our main thing we did, and the other one of us had carved out this whole other life.”
Indeed, following their split, Heath Crawley had embarked upon another chapter of his life. While his own Instagram page sees him describe himself as the “post BASS co-founder” of the band, he also labels himself a “curio curator” and “relic resurrector”, referring to his new life as the co-owner and curator of Central Coast boutique Tiki La La. Despite this new life, Crawley wasn’t instantly dismissive of a potential return to the band.
“We spoke about it a bit and he didn’t say no to it straight away,” explains Caesar. “We tried to work out other scenarios, but they just weren’t going to work. He’s got a shop, a life, and other serious, less fluid commitments to attend to.”
“It is really hard to step back into it, because it’s pretty all-consuming, music,” adds Mackay. “And I don’t think you realise it until you don’t do it for a bit, or you talk to someone who doesn’t do it and they realise the sacrifices you make.
“I think Heath had kind of stepped into this other life, and he’s still there. So when it came to the crunch where Ryan and I were like, ‘We’re doing this, are you cool with it?’, and he gave us his blessing to do it without him. He has this whole other life [which is] probably more sensible than [ours].”
Although fans of the band would not be exposed to things going on behind the scene, this burgeoning reunion and a lack of a founding member meant that there was a bassist-shaped hole within the band that needed filling. That’s where Chelsea Wheatley, better known to some as Chela, stepped in.
“She’s a really, really old friend of mine,” Mackay says of Wheatley. “When we kind of realised that Heath couldn’t do it, that was [rough]; he’s such an iconic, integral part of our group.
“In my mind, I was like, ‘What are the two most important things that Heath has?’ He’s sort of got this real punk vibe, and he’s a good dancer. I don’t know if anyone ever noticed that, but he moved around the stage in such a cool way. As soon as I thought those two things, the first thing that came to mind was my friend Chelsea, who has a project where she does all this amazing dancing, and used to play in a punk band when I met her.
“So I messaged her and luckily she said yes, and Ryan thought it was a good idea too. So the next stage was us jamming together, and there’s something really nice about three people who front their own projects coming together that makes everything a bit easier. I don’t know what it is, but it’s all working, and it feels great.”
Of course, the relationship between Wheatley and Children Collide isn’t a new one at all, with Wheatley and Mackay having both been part of the same “rockdog community” in Melbourne roughly 17 years ago.
“I remember buying a Children Collide song off of iTunes,” Wheatley reminisces. “Later on when Johnny and I became friends, I remember being in New York when I was 20 and Children Collide were playing a show.
“I was two weeks away from turning 21, and they didn’t let me in. I was like, ‘My friend’s in there!’ And it’s all these little moments that have led to me eventually being in the band.”
Despite years spent as both a fan of Children Collide and a close friend of Mackay, the potentially-daunting prospect of joining a beloved and well-established band was far from intimidating for Wheatley.
“No offence to Johnny but it [wasn’t that daunting], only because Johnny is such a good friend of mine that I feel like if I fuck up, it’s alright,” she explains. “There’s no pressure.
“And Ryan’s become such a good friend that it’s just like family. It didn’t feel daunting because they weren’t strangers to me.”
With a new lineup and a renewed focus for the future, the only thing needed by the new version of Children Collide was fresh material. This proved to be the least of their worries, with Mackay essentially admitting he had been unable to stop writing Children Collide songs over the last decade.
“I think it’s just innate. It’s been innate in me since the band started,” he muses. “There’s a song on the record that was written at the start of the band [“Funeral for A Ghost”], and there’s a song on the record written two weeks before we went into the studio. So it’s just constantly coming out of me.
“Then there was this concentrated period too, where Ryan – I was stuck in Sydney at the start of 2019 – would come up to Sydney and we’d write together. It was kind of a mish-mash of stuff that was sitting there – [some of it was] burning a hole in my hard drive and was basically just a Children Collide song that needed to be on a record and released and felt like unfinished business, and then there was a whole bunch of stuff where Ryan and I were like, ‘Let’s write this kind of song’.”
It’s this new material that makes up the group’s long-awaited fourth album, Time Itself. Interestingly, it’s a record which feels much more aligned to the group’s early material, with the somewhat atmospheric moods featured on records such as 2010’s Theory of Everything and 2012’s Monument being eschewed in favour of the straight-up alt-rock featured on their early EPs, or 2008 debut, The Long Now. According to Mackay though, this wasn’t an accident.
“I don’t know about the other guys, but as we got all these reviews early on, referencing Nirvana, Sonic Youth, and bands like that,” Mackay remembers. “I felt like I personally tried to run away from that for some reason and didn’t want to be so obvious in sounding like all my childhood heroes.
“This time around, Ryan and I spoke a lot about embracing those sounds that were fundamental to the start of the band, and the things we really liked. One of the fun things about being in a band is attempting to recreate the feeling your favourite bands gave you as a kid. So it was fun to do that with Children Collide, to sound like those bands that I tried to runaway from when they got name-checked in reviews. But now it’s like, that’s why I liked doing it.”
While these early influences are still heard – most prominently – in live favourites such as set closer “Fire Engine” (of which a live version on YouTube sees a Spanish-speaking fan drawing direct comparisons to Nirvana and Sonic Youth in the comment section), the group actually admit that some of the tracks on the new record – specifically “Aurora” and “Myriad Ways” – were initially set for release on their last album, only to be cut at the last minute.
After a few years spent planning a comeback and refining new material, the new trio found themselves entering New York City’s Diamond Mine & Stockholm Syndrome studio in 2019 to lay down tracks with producer Loren Humphrey. This time around though, it was an entirely different situation to when both Mackay and Caesar had last recorded under the Children Collide name at the beginning of the decade.
“We had a completely new management company, no Heath, it had been however long – forever – and Johnny and I hadn’t really played the songs before,” Caesar notes. “I hadn’t played drums to any of these songs, apart from the ones that we’d trialled live at those reunion shows in 2014, so it was like jumping straight into it when we got over there. It was a markedly different experience, but incredible.”
“It felt really natural though, somehow,” echoes Mackay. “I think there was a real ‘friend’ vibe, and as Children Collide, there was a lot of pressure on each album for those first three albums.
“It was like, ‘This is your first album, you’ve got a big producer’, or, ‘This is your second album, you need to follow-up your last album’, but this one just felt like, ‘Let’s just make a cool record’. Loren was a big part of that too. But apart from that, it was basically like a bunch of friends hanging out, making tunes, which is why you get into it in the first place.”
“It was basically like a bunch of friends hanging out, making tunes, which is why you get into it in the first place.”
Clearly the vibe in the studio was one that lent itself to creativity, with the band able to once again become a “messy three piece” that focused heavily on the idea of being far less polished than they had previously. With “rough edges, people bumping into other, and stuff getting made up on the spot sometimes”, the sessions gave way to a litany of songs, including the likes of “Trampoline”, which Mackay admitted was likely his favourite song that he had written.
“I feel like I’ve got one-liners in there I like, a chord progression I like,” he explains. “There’s this weird mixture… I feel more humble and like less of a little dickhead than I used to be, but also more proud of stuff [laughs]. It’s so weird. Maybe that’s what happens.
“But yeah, I’m just proud of that song because it feels like a well-written song. And maybe that’s just from hearing more songs in your life? When you’re writing at the start, you’ve only heard a few songs and a few bands, and now I’ve just been around a wealth of music…” He trails off with a chuckle, admitting he can’t really explain himself “without sounding like an arsehole”.
However, another part of what made the process so enjoyable for the group was undoubtedly the presence of producer Loren Humphrey. A prolific musician in his own right, Humphrey’s association with Children Collide came about in the most New York way possible.
“I met Loren through Kevin Parker [of Tame Impala] in a club in the Lower East Side in New York,” recalls Mackay. “We all sat in a corner, talking shit all night, and he and I instantly got along, bonding over the music of David Axelrod.
“He and I just started bumping around. He played in Fascinator. Fascinator had him, this guy Aku, and this guy Jesse, and then Florence and The Machine stole half of that band and they ended up playing with her.”
“He’s a really good drummer, which is terrifying, especially coming off the back of not playing drums for six or seven years,” admits Caesar. “In terms of drumming, it was super helpful to have someone with his sort of ear, to help with drum parts and simplifying things. […] But also he’s a man of great taste and great experience, so it’s just like having another dude in the band.”
The modern revival of Children Collide first made its presence felt back in late 2019. Having first teased new material by way of a Facebook post that referred to “CC Album 4 Demos” in August of that year, November brought with it the announcement of new single “Aurora” and the band’s first new live shows in almost five years.
While these live shows proved that “Children Collide are still as powerful and mesmerising as ever”, the band themselves treated them as the start of a new era.
“We were just so excited for all the touring we were going to do in 2020,” Caesar says with a laugh. “I reckon it feels better than ever to be honest.”
“It feels like the beginning,” echoes Wheatley.
“I thought it was done, but it’s not done at all, it feels like the beginning.”
“Every show, it just gets better, it gets tighter,” adds Mackay. “And for me personally, with this band, when it gets to the point where I don’t have to think about what we’re playing, and none of us have to think about it, then I feel really… I feel in a trance but present at the same time.
“It finally got there on that last little tour we did. I’d be onstage and just in a trance and not worrying about what chords I was playing. We’d got back to that with it. And yeah, I just can’t wait to do more of it.”
Although the plans for the group’s new album had been hampered by notable events such as a global pandemic (with Mackay noting he believes he even contracted COVID-19 back in February of 2020), the group aren’t letting themselves feel terribly sidelined by cancelled shows and missed opportunities and are instead embracing the opportunities they did have to move forward.
“We did some cool [shows this year],” Mackay says. “Chelsea always reminds me when I start having a bitch that we’re actually quite lucky. We had crowd-surfing. I don’t even know if you’re allowed to do that, but that’s how punk we are.”
With a new album in hand and the Children Collide experience feeling as fun and fulfilling as ever for its members any cautious optimism about this reunion lasting for more than a record is confirmed by Caesar, who points toward the group continuing on into the foreseeable future. “Yeah, we’re back,” he succinctly puts it.
“When I first hit up a label to do this record – just DM’d a friend who has a label – I said it’s like the end of Children Collide and I wanted to call it Eulogy,” recalls Mackay. “And of course, he was like, ‘I’m not putting that out’.
“But it’s turned into this thing where, I thought it was done, but it’s not done at all, it feels like the beginning. It feels really fun and amazing and I don’t think I’m getting out of it. I hope lots of people hear it and I hope that we get to play shows for lots of people. Because that’s just been the funnest thing, to be onstage with these two guys, travelling around, and getting to share that with two friends is just so fun. You forget that’s why you started music.”
Children Collide’s Time Itself is officially out now.
Children Collide – Time Itself Tour
Friday, November 19th
Jive, Adelaide, SA
Saturday, November 20th
Lynott’s Lounge, Perth, WA
Sunday, November 21st
Mojos, Fremantle, WA
Thursday, November 25th
Sooki Lounge, Belgrave, VIC
Friday, November 26th
Howler, Melbourne, VIC
Saturday, November 27th
The Eastern, Ballarat, VIC
Wednesday, December 1st (Sold Out)
La La La’s, Wollongong, NSW
Thursday, December 2nd
Oxford Art Factory, Sydney, NSW
Friday, December 3rd
Kambri, Canberra, ACT
Saturday, December 4th
The Newy, Newcastle, NSW
Thursday, December 9th
The Zoo, Brisbane, QLD
Friday, December 10th
Eleven Dive Bar, Maroochydore, QLD
Saturday, December 11th
Studio 56 @ Miami Marketta, Gold Coast, QLD
Tickets on sale from the Children Collide website