With Violent Soho releasing an album titled 'Everything is A-OK' during a global pandemic, we chatted with Luke Boerdam about the group's new record, and what brought them to this point.
A lot has changed for Violent Soho in the last few years. This time in 2016, the band were celebrating their first-ever #1 record, with WACO managing to top the ARIA chart upon its release, and scoring them two ARIA Awards as well. Of course, these celebrations couldn’t last forever, with the Mansfield quartet soon hitting the road, touring relentlessly to help promote their album.
By 2017, rumours of a hiatus had begun to spread, while some fans found themselves wondering just what was happening behind the scenes for the world-renowned outfit. Were they hard at work on a new record? Were they plotting a major comeback with a series of high-profile headline gigs? Or had they shacked up with an LA producer, ready to craft the world’s biggest pop anthem?
Without Violent Soho constantly on the live stage and on the airwaves, there was plenty of time for imaginations to run wild. As it turned out, the group were taking things relatively easy, enjoying some hard-earned time off, going through some personal things, and gradually moving towards the writing and recording process of their fifth album.
While the last few months have seen the band come roaring back into our hearts and minds thanks to new songs, shows, and a new album, the whole process just seems to be business as usual for the Queensland rockers.
“We are very happy to finally get this record out,” frontman Luke Boerdam explains over the phone, our plans for a face-to-face chat disrupted by the current COVID-19 pandemic. “We’re disappointed that we can’t do tours and stuff that we’d usually do around a record release.
“It feels a bit weird to stay at home while your work is being put out to the world. The context of the disaster upon us and people losing their livelihoods, I think you can’t really complain, obviously. I think the right thing to do is put the record out, and people enjoy it, and then once things settle down we can tour and do a second release at the end of the year and actually do what we want to do.”
“I think if there’s a record to sum up what’s going on right now lyrically, I think this is definitely one of them.”
Of course, with a title like Everything is A-OK, one could be forgiven for assuming that Violent Soho have actually crafted one of the world’s most relevant albums, composed during this time of global crisis and topped off with an ironic title. The truth is, however, far removed from this scenario, with Boerdam noting it has surprisingly become more relevant than ever given the state of the world.
“It’s fascinating that some of the lyrics talk about… Y’know, saying ‘Everything is A-OK‘ is essentially an ironic statement,” he notes. “It’s weird, because it was actually written when society or Australia in general was at a relatively peaceful time in comparison to now.
“I think it’s just really fascinating that people can listen to this album in the context where it actually does refer to something that everyone is going through, in a very real sense. So, I think it’s fascinating that our record is being put out at this time.
“It’s odd, because I don’t want to feel too proud because I just feel bad for bands that have to delay records, or not tour, and so many people are losing work. It’s not like you can crack open a beer and celebrate, [laughs]. I think if there’s a record to sum up what’s going on right now lyrically, I think this is definitely one of them. Maybe it’s more relevant than ever to put this record out.
Though Everything is A-OK is arguably one of the strongest works ever released by Violent Soho, it’s hard to look at its release without recalling the massive achievement from 2016 which saw the band storm the Aussie charts when WACO took out the top spot.
“It was a little bit of a surprise,” Boerdam recalls. “To be honest, though, it was a bigger surprise when Hungry Ghost hit #6. That blew my mind. Bands like us don’t even chart. Electronic music was at the forefront. We didn’t even look at charts, or anything like that.
“Then, with WACO, I definitely had an expectation it might hit somewhere, but I was definitely surprised that it got #1. I didn’t think that was possible, because usually you have the international mega superstars who kind of take that stuff out, like Ed Sheeran, and Adele — artists you just cannot compete with as an Australian band.
“We failed miserably at all this stuff for a good for ten years, so it’s embedded for the spirit of our band to not be disappointed with charts and stuff like that.”
“I remember it came out and it hit #1 and we were like, ‘Shit!’ It was actually a good #1, too, especially where we compared sales, and then the next week we were still top ten, I think. So, you know, it wasn’t just #1, and then it disappears. It was #1, and then just an influx of sales.”
Undoubtedly, a performance like this was enough to see just how beloved Violent Soho had become amongst local fans, who had elevated them to the levels of success seen by many of the band’s own idols. With Everything is A-OK now out in the world though, Boerdam feels confident the record will manage to land with fans, despite their inability to support it with live shows, instore signings, or other promotional tactics.
“The only thing I’d look at for measuring success for the band is how many tickets to the tour you can actually sell. That’s when it feels real. I’d expect top 10,” he predicts of the record’s chart performance. “I’d like that, considering how everything is, that’d be awesome. But seriously, I wouldn’t be fazed if it was like #50 [laughs].
“Bands like us don’t even chart.”
“We failed miserably at all this stuff for a good for ten years, so it’s embedded for the spirit of our band to not be disappointed with charts and stuff like that, because it’s just about the music. We want to make our music and we want to share our music, so I’d only be disappointed if we couldn’t afford to get to the studio to make music. But then again, we’d probably make a way if we can’t tour and share the music. That’s the only indicator of success.”
Though the success of WACO undoubtedly emboldened the band somewhat, a hectic touring schedule saw them enter 2017 feeling a little bit worse for wear. Following a run of shows with the Groovin The Moo festival, guitarist James Tidswell hinted it was the band’s “last time playing indefinitely”, instantly causing the rumour mill to assume the band were packing it in for good.
Though they managed to set the record straight and promise fans they had no intention of quitting the music game, the next two years were clearly a little less busy than previous, with only a half-dozen shows between 2018 and 2019.
“I think we did experience some burn out, definitely,” Boerdam recalls. “I think the scary thing about burnout is that you don’t realise that you’re getting burnt out until after you get burnt out, [laughs]. I think we definitely needed to hit the breaks at that point, though.
“At the end of touring WACO, it left the band in a state of not knowing. I remember James was quoted as saying that we were going on hiatus. That definitely wasn’t the case. It was a complete misquote. What he was trying to say that got everyone confused is that we were definitely taking a break. I think we needed it after WACO because we went from Hungry Ghost and then it took a year or two for the popularity of Hungry Ghost to actually hit home in terms of doing our own tours, and stuff.
“Then, we went straight into WACO, and then constant touring, an overseas trip, and there was just no gap in between to actually stop and look back and take it in. It just kept going. It just go to that point that with Groovin The Moo show at the end, we just didn’t give a shit. We played this show and I remembered not caring, and we even smashed our gear on stage; we were just done.”
Though fans were spared the thought process of the band’s members at the time, Boerdam notes that a lack of certainty and motivation left things somewhat up in the air, with questions being raised about just what would be on the cards next for Violent Soho.
“We’re just not going to do music for the point of money or timetables that other people set.”
“I think the band had reached a point where we didn’t want to do another WACO and we didn’t want to do another Hungry Ghost,” he recalls. “And after 14 or 15 years of being a band, you kind of start questioning, ‘Do we even make another record?’ Like, if we’re not feeling it and I can’t write the songs to a level where we feel it, if I can’t deliver, and if we’re not motivated to go to fucking band practice… does the world need another Soho album?
“So, there was a few things that kind of spurred it on, including some personal stuff. I was at the end of a nine year relationship and I ended up back at my parents’ place, and I was there with guitars and suitcases; a classic clichéd story. I just started writing, and I think for the first time since the self-titled album, I started writing personally again as a point of catharsis. Getting it out and actually working through the emotion and working through music… I just wanted to write music again.
“Secondly, with the band we had a few practices and we were a bit, ‘Eh, whatever’. So, I think we started joking about how we could approach this next record and the turning point is when we started to think outside the box and go, ‘We don’t have to do what people want us to do. We don’t have to do a big record. We can actually go to a house and rent a house for six months and live and record the record in-house.’
“We had budget, and we were looking for something different and we were looking at American producers and Australian dudes, and we were like, ‘What about Greg Wales? What about this guy who really understands the core of the band?’ I mean, our first manager was Dean [Turner] from Magic Dirt who had this huge inspiration with his attitude. Just the way these ‘90s bands toured and wrote their music, from Magic Dirt to Sandpit, and that’s the same with American bands like Built To Spill and Pavement. So we thought, ‘Why don’t we record it with Greg Wales?'”
With an Australian legend like Greg Wales on board – who had worked with names like You Am I, Smudge, Even, the often-overlooked Dumpster, and for triple j’s live team – the band had found the spark they needed to help get things underway for their new record, thinking about music in a new way, and even beginning to think outside the box more than usual.
“At one point we were going to call the album just our label. The guy who runs our label, Johann [Ponniah, I OH YOU Records] we were just going to get his mobile phone number and just chuck it on the front of the cover, and that was it, [laughs]. So, it was going to be recorded in-house, and the producer from triple j, with our manger of the label’s phone number on the front cover.
“I think with this record, we were able to kind of find a direction we were happy to walk towards and settle on.”
“After that one practice where everyone was thinking outside the box, it got us inspired and we just started thinking, ‘We should do another fucking record.’
“And, me working through my shit definitely took a few years. There was like one year where I only wrote like three songs, and that was it in the whole year, so it definitely took its time. But it was necessary because you sometimes need to hit the reset switch and we’re definitely a band that needs to be happy with the music and content.
“We have to be happy with what we’re putting out there or we just won’t want to tour it. We’re too lazy for that, [laughs]. We’re just not going to do music for the point of money or timetables that other people set. It’s stupid.
“This record was interesting because our other records are always so aggressive. It was like we had something to prove. But this record, it didn’t feel like that. It just felt like we were more confident than ever, to just pull back and relax into how we wanted it to sound and take time.
“I think that’s where you get a more softer sound on the record like songs like “Slow Down Sonic”, “A-OK”, and “Canada”. We used to be scared of approaching songs like that. I think with this record, we were able to kind of find a direction we were happy to walk towards and settle on.”
With Violent Soho having made the music that they wanted to make, it was time for their long overdue return to the Aussie stage. Though their appearance on the Good Things lineup served as their first local shows in a very long time, these performances were preceded by the appearance of cryptic billboards which soon resulted in the release of an acoustic version of “A-OK”, and lead single “Vacation Forever” just one week later.
“It was definitely jumping in the deep end,” Boerdam says of their Good Things appearance with a laugh. “We were trying to work out a way where we could go tour overseas before, just not to walk up in front of 15,000 people straight away, [laughs]. But, we couldn’t organise it, so we just went for it.
“But, it was great. I think we were experienced enough to be able to handle it. I definitely would’ve preferred to do a whole tour before doing a show like that. Just to warm up, you know? But, it felt great to hop back in and rediscover our old form again.
“We only played two new songs. Playing older songs definitely came easier because we’ve been playing them for so many years. It was definitely was just jumping ten metres off the diving board into the pool, [laughs]. There was no warming up. I found it funny we did Good Things at the end of last year and then we came back at the end of this year playing smaller rooms. Like, it would have been way better to do it the other way around.”
“I think we just wanted to dispel the idea that we were going to come back with some big hit.”
Indeed, most bands would have approached this from the opposite direction, with smaller club shows preceding a national festival. However, considering Violent Soho subverted expectations completely by releasing an acoustic number as their first single since 2016, fans had an idea things would be different this time around.
“I think we just wanted to dispel the idea that we were going to come back with some big hit,” Boerdam says of their ‘comeback’ track. “That’s what it felt like. It felt like people were saying ‘They’re coming back, and something will happen and they’ll drop a massive track on us’. It felt good to not throw people off intentionally, but to release a song that’s clearly an album song.
“[“A-OK”] song represents what this record is about and what our new music is about and this song kind of encapsulates everything. It felt right to put that out first to kind of clear the palate. You know, resetting the palate to clear expectations of what the music should be, and it felt good to do it. It just felt right for the band.
“If anything, I didn’t expect how well it was going to be received. ‘Cause, all we did was go film the cover in the house and [Luke] Henery took a photo for the cover and then he filmed the video. We just put that up online, and it was so well-received and people really listened to the song, which I didn’t expect. I didn’t expect them to really like the song and I even thought, ‘Maybe we should have left it a bit longer and put it about a month before “Vacation Forever”.’
“We just had the acoustic one out and “Vacation” dropped two or three weeks later, so there wasn’t much space between. We didn’t send it to radio, we didn’t release it as a single, we didn’t break radio, we didn’t do interviews like this, we just put it up online and it just felt right.”
With “Vacation Forever” out on the airwaves, Violent Soho again took an unconventional approach to the beginning of their year. Getting back to their roots somewhat, the band announced a trio of east coast dates back in February, with tickets only being sold in-person from select record stores.
While these shows quickly sold out, fans who bought tickets were met with even more good news, with the announcement of Everything is A-OK being made via in-store pre-orders. Though the deep-thinking music fan could posit that it was a way for the band to take a nostalgic approach to the album promotion trail, Boerdam admits the reasons were a little bit more selfish than what some may think.
“We just wanted to get out and play again,” he explains. “To be honest, maybe part of it was a knee-jerk reaction to the big shows. We didn’t want to go straight into these massive shows, it just didn’t feel right.
“It was so cool to get the band back into that space just playing those shows where you can just feel the sweat with people just right there in front of you. It was a great way for us to reconnect with our path a bit. We did it for ourselves to get back and play shows that we spent most of our time as a band playing, and just reconnect with that side of the band rather than big stage festivals like Good Things.
“I definitely didn’t expect the reception to be what it was with people lining up down the street to get a ticket. It was very flattering that people would do that, and that people would line up, ‘cause a lot of people in our band would line up for tickets.
“We’re like, ‘They’re lining up for Soho? Really?’ [laughs]. It’s weird for us. It’s weird to do that for other bands. It was just rad to go back and play small shows. I can’t really explain it. To kick it off like that was just awesome.”
With Violent Soho back on the scene, the band’s fanbase were wholly united in their excitement to have new tunes from the group. While the likes of “Vacation Forever” served as the first taste of the album for many, its resonance isn’t lost on the band.
Through lyrics like “There’s a baby boomer across the street and it won’t stop staring at me” and “They all want the good life but I just want to breathe” have become rallying cries of the Aussie music fan, Boerdam notes that the track’s origins were far from the unifying experience it has become.
“I was in a bedroom with two guitars and some suitcases and just literally back in my old bedroom where I wrote some of the first Soho songs,” he recalls. “I really just wrote what came to mind, and it was very cathartic. It was the first song I wrote off the whole record. I hadn’t been trying to write a song, and it just happened.
“I think sometimes you hit that moment where you do write purely from yourself and just put it on a sheet of paper, and just play the song on the guitar. I think when that happens, and you’re that lucky, I think there’s something powerful people can more easily understand the song and they feel the frustration. They can get to it so much easier when the song is written like that.
“Rarely do I get songs where they lyrics are done in one hit whilst I’m playing the guitar. That one, I just feel very lucky.”
“I think there’s something in that song with the lyrics coming from sitting in a room. It’s odd now, ‘cause really, I was in isolation, right? Like, my life was in isolation at that point. It’s odd because I was literally writing from that place of isolation. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I wanted to be on vacation forever.
“What’s happening now is odd for me. Like, this is a big analogy from where I was four years ago. I think that’s what makes that song tick is when I wrote it, it was really pure. Rarely do I get songs where they lyrics are done in one hit whilst I’m playing the guitar. That one, I just feel very lucky. I’m glad it happened, I love it. I love that song. I love playing it, I loved recording it.”
Though most album releases would see a band like Violent Soho gearing up to play launch shows all around the country, playing their new songs for dedicated fans, things are a little bit different this time around.
Sadly, the COVID-19 pandemic has seen live shows shut down due to restrictions on gatherings, leaving many to wonder when they can say that Everything is A-OK once again. For the band though, they’re set to use their downtime to look ahead to what is in store for them once a semblance of normalcy returns to Australia and its music industry.
“We’re going to let this new album go out for now. We’re just going to breathe for a little bit,” Boerdam explains. “I don’t have the desire to go in write and jam with the dudes, plus, we’re not legally allowed to, [laughs].
“Once restrictions ease up a bit, we’ll get back to it, but then we have to do what we were meant to do for this record. Tour, go overseas, and do all that stuff.”
“But, I’ll probably do some writing. It’s odd because it’s not like I’m going to start writing songs about coronavirus, because I feel like it was summed up in that record already, even though it wasn’t written about it specifically. So, yeah, I’ll do some writing but I’m not going to go, ‘I’m going to try to write a record in three months’.
“It’s not in our cards, it’s not how we work. We’ll let this album go and maybe we’ll get to, once restrictions ease up a bit, we’ll get back to it, but then we have to do what we were meant to do for this record. Tour, go overseas, and do all that stuff.
“I think the creative process will probably kick up a bit before then and get some writing done, and then slowly start piecing stuff together, but it’s definitely years away from another Soho record. It’s just the rate we work at. Then jamming with the dudes and piecing an album, for us it’s just a massive amount of work. We don’t like to think about it, we just let it happen.”
Violent Soho’s Everything is A-OK is out now.