¾ of The Buoys talk to Rolling Stone about the importance of representation, processing big feelings and why they’re excited to be involved with Movember.
Tackling the hard topics isn’t something new to The Buoys. From breakups to gender equality, red flags to the people you can’t quit, the band makes punk music that reflects life back to you. Whether that’s allowing fans to open up about their own experiences, or even the way music allows the band themselves to process their emotions, the connection is something they’re incredibly aware of, particularly when they’re touring.
“We might come into a room feeling pretty shitty, but by the time we’ve played a few songs, we’re all just grinning at each other. There’s nothing better than playing a gig together because you walk away from it and you’re like ‘This is why I’m here’,” says drummer Tess Wilkin.
“That’s the best feeling. It’s so powerful, it’s so validating. Being in music can be great for mental health and building connections with people.”
Building connections and creating safe spaces is something The Buoys are very good at. When we talk about safe spaces within music and representation, the onus often falls to the people who seek those spaces to create them. As an all-female identifying band, The Buoys are one of those often asked about these spaces and how they’ve found them within the Australian music scene.
Lead singer Zoe Catterall says it’s something she didn’t see a lot of when she was first playing music in Cronulla in 2017. Without women around her on stage at her local venues, it was intimidating and scary to be open with her music in places that didn’t feel like they were hers.
“When I moved to the inner west, it was so much different to what I experienced in Cronulla. It didn’t matter that you were a woman, which was really cool. Slowly over time, I have seen a shift, people have changed their perspective on what it means to be a musician and an entertainer which is really cool,” says Zoe.
“I’m really keen for it to be a non-conversation for young girls and women who want to start bands. I’m keen for that, for it to be acceptable for everyone and not be something that’s supported in certain little clusters.”
Bassist Courtney Cunningham says growing up with music, she experienced the reverse. Playing in bands since she was about 12, then studying music, she’s always been around people who embraced anyone who wanted to play.
“Gender, the colour of your skin, there was no interest in that. It was just people who loved music playing music,” she says.
The Buoys have been able to provide that female visibility for their fans and the wider community a lot this year. They’ve been touring a lot with Ball Park Music and Eliza & The Delusionals among others, giving them plenty of chances to get up close and personal with the fans that love them.
“We just did a show in Adelaide with Ball Park Music and we were walking along the barrier and suddenly everyone was putting their hands out, so we were just slapping hands and there was just such a good energy. That’s the best part of touring when people feel your energy and your good vibes and just want to be a part of it. I love that stuff,” says Courtney.
“Zoe is incredibly vulnerable in what she writes, she writes about personal experiences, and it really opens up spaces for people to be able to share things. The number of people who come up to us and talk about [2021 single] Lie To Me Again and how it helped them through shitty times. It’s incredible to hear about people connecting to your music like that,” says Tess.
Being able to help people through difficult times and supporting them is part of the reason The Buoys wanted to get involved and support Movember. Meaningful support for men experiencing cancer and other serious health challenges is something particularly close to Tess’ heart after witnessing those close to her go through diagnosis.
“One of the things I learned was what a huge identity adjustment it is to receive a cancer diagnosis. Seeing people go through that and trying to find ways to support them, it’s a big thing. I’ve known different people who all have different ways of dealing with it,” she says.
“It’s important to allow space for people to talk about it because one of the things I’ve seen is how helpful that is for them to be able to work through whatever is going on in their own heads. It’s really important to have compassion and time for people going through these experiences.”
Having previously hosted forums for men’s mental health, Courtney has been able to hear firsthand how much a diagnosis can impact the whole community, not just the person who receives it.
“Getting news like a cancer diagnosis doesn’t just affect the individual themselves. It’s every single person that’s connected to them, family members, friends, and community. The statistics for men are pretty outrageous, so it’s really important to have support for them through organisations like Movember,” says Courtney.
Zoe has also seen the impacts of mental health challenges firsthand within her own family. While addressing these challenges is far beyond a quick fix, she’s passionate about opening the lines of communication because you never know how impactful a single conversation can be.
“I’ve always been super passionate about men’s health because I’ve had so many male family members struggle with things that may have been prevented with a conversation. I’m quite young for my family, so many of them grew up in a time where conversations were not easy and it begs the question, how could things have been different if they were able to open up about what was going on with their health or in their heads,” she says.
Because the band is so aware of the impact music can have on people’s emotional well-being, Courtney says she can get a ‘bit fiery’ at their live shows. She’s not afraid to put a stop to someone acting inappropriately or making other people feel uncomfortable.
“I don’t have a problem calling it out. People may genuinely be having a bad time and someone doing something unacceptable at a show can put a stain on what should be a good experience. I want people to feel like they’re coming to The Buoys show, it’s really awesome,” she says.
These shows are also emotional high points for the band, and it can be hard to recover after a busy touring schedule. You bounce between waiting at the airport, waiting at the hotel, waiting for soundcheck and waiting for the show to start, says Zoe, before suddenly you’re on stage and the dopamine hits.
“It’s insane. The only way my body recovers [when the tour is over] is resting. Then, once I’ve gotten on top of that rest, I write a song. That’s the full circle, I’ve rested, I’ve written a song about my feelings, I’m good, we do another tour and I deplete my dopamine stores again,” she laughs.