To say the last 18 months have been tough for Tropical Fuck Storm would be a pretty huge understatement. After all, when you’ve got a massive run of international tour dates planned and new music being released, things are usually heading in the right direction. Therefore, it’s usually pretty abnormal to assume that a global pandemic is going to come along and mess things up for all and sundry.
Sadly, that’s exactly the situation that Tropical Fuck Storm and the rest of the world found themselves in which COVID-19 took hold early last year. At the time, the Melbourne quartet were six months removed from their second album, Braindrops (and album which Iggy Pop praised, calling the title track “a good fuck”), and they were armed with a few new singles which would arrive in the coming months.
After “Suburbiopia” arrived in April, and “Legal Ghost” followed just four months later, fans would likely have assumed that this meant album number three was well on its way. As it turned out, they’d have to wait another year for the record to arrive, by which point, the music that Tropical Fuck Storm was making had become heavily influenced by the year that had been.
Frontman Gareth Liddiard himself noted in a statement that the first six months of the global pandemic saw him in something of a musical drought, with a sense of nihilism seeping through as a result of the state of the world. Eventually though, the music began to flow again, with songs related to what we were all feeling and seeing coming to a head.
No more was this evidence by “G.A.F.F.”, the track that accompanied the announcement of their Deep States album back in June. Named for the “give a fuck fatigue” that the global population had begun to feel, this sentiment was soon followed by the likes of “New Romeo Agent” and “Bumma Sanger”, with the latter seeing Liddiard freely admit in the lyrics that the song was “supposed to be a summer banger, but now it’s just another bumma sanger“.
Elsewhere in the album, there’s references to cults (be it the previously-released “Suburbiopia” or the US Capitol Riot-referencing “Blue Beam Baby”), Pizzagate, QAnon, and bizarre realities which we’ve come to accept in the world we live in. As a statement accompanying the album explained, Deep States “shines an incandescent light on a world in which corporate media, bad-faith leaders, and charismatics of all stripes lose the ability to recognise their own deceptiveness”. Tropical Fuck Storm might claim they haven’t written a protest record for these times, but it’s the closest thing to one we’ve seen recently.
With Tropical Fuck Storm officially releasing Deep States this week, Liddiard spoke to Rolling Stone Australia about the events of the last year, the inspiration behind the record, and their upcoming national tour (which suffered a slight rescheduling just yesterday).
This album obviously comes following a year on hold. How badly did the pandemic affect the plans that Tropical Fuck Storm had previously laid out?
Yeah, really badly. It just wrecked everything, really. You kind of have to laugh or you’ll cry. We had the biggest year ever, really, planned. We had two US tours, three European tours at really big festivals and stuff. The US one was sold out. Just bigger and better than anything we’d ever done, and then, yeah, we just had to can them all. Well, postpone it, and then we had to postpone that, and postpone that… It was just real shit.
I mean, the band is four people, but there’s agents, promo people – worldwide – and record labels. These booking agents don’t get paid to postpone things for 18 months, they only get paid if you play. So it’s been pretty fucked.
But for some people it’s worse. We were going to be do a lot of stuff with Iggy Pop, like, festivals and stuff. But then fuckin’, that all got canned. But you have to think about him. I mean, two years is a fucking long time. So in that sense, we’re doing alright.
Was there already an album in the works at the time COVID hit? We did see the likes of “Suburbiopia” and “Legal Ghost” released earlier in 2020, so was it always the plan to have an album following soon after that?
There was, but then that got scuttled as well just by, well the lockdowns, obviously, but it was demoralising. And then, Fi [Fiona Kitschin] manages the band, so rather than she and I planning on making some new stuff and getting the whole record-making process into action, she had to then do all this emergency postponement stuff. Worldwide, like, postponing a hundred gigs is really hard [laughs]. It’s a fucking disaster, but shit happens.
A lot of people seemed to sort of view something like a pandemic as an opportunity to get creative as a way to deal with the crushing monotony of life, but there were claims that you were the opposite. Is is true you sort of had a nihilistic approach to songwriting, music, and I guess, life as a result?
I don’t know, I mean, I do have a nihilistic, misanthropic streak, but at the same time I think that’s there because I do generally like my species. So I’m not an arsehole. And it’s fun to do a bit of nihilism, but as long as you make it fun.
And on the new album there’s a song called “Bumma Sanger”, it’s about the pandemic. We were just thinking like, “Fuck, the pandemic is the dullest thing in the world. No one wants to hear any more about it. But at the same time, it sounds completely insane to not acknowledge it because everyone’s been through it.” So we had to make a silly premise for a song, that’s semi-nihilistic; semi-realistic.
But I don’t know, my first reaction to the pandemic was just to be demoralised. Because usually I work with deadlines, which is just how I’ve worked for 25 years, and old habits die hard.
“We were just thinking like, ‘Fuck, the pandemic is the dullest thing in the world. No one wants to hear any more about it. But at the same time, it sounds completely insane to not acknowledge it because everyone’s been through it.'”
That makes sense. I could definitely relate, and I think a lot of folks found themselves in the same situation where you’re suddenly unsure of what you’re working towards.
I think half the people are in our boat, and another half are in the other one we’re they’re like, “Cool, I could paint the pergola, get into pottery, do something creative, or sit on my arse and watch movies.” But I was just like, “Okay, I’ll just start drinking in earnest” [laughs].
How long into things did you find yourself able to start writing songs and making music again?
I don’t know, I can’t even remember now. I’m bad with dates at the best of time, but everything has been a big smudge. Probably about half way through? We were just like, “Alright, this is ridiculous”. And it’s still happening now. You’ll be halfway through making something and it’ll get postponed or cancelled, and it’s just insanity.
So we’d start recording and then there’d be a statewide lockdown and no one could come to record or get together. And we work best in a room together; it’s more of a happening. I see bands making albums by working remotely, but we can’t do that, we have to be in the same room.
There’s definitely that energy in your work that you can’t get from a stale, at-home environment.
Yeah, everything we do is done semi-badly so it sounds like a mush, but y’know, a nice mush [laughs]. But we have to kind of be in a room together to make that mush. If you do it separately that it sounds so clean that it’s hard to enjoy.
“I see bands making albums by working remotely, but we can’t do that, we have to be in the same room.”
Well that’s very much a trademark of the bands you’ve played in, isn’t it? Everything feels as if it’s been recorded in such a way that it feels dirty and off-the-cuff.
Yeah, and we smash out a huge amount of shit, and then another part of the process is… Because we have the studio in a huge open-plan school room in the countryside, and it’s got a kitchen in it as well… So once we make a bunch of noise and have hard drives full of crap, we kind of just start doing what you do if you’re editing a film or something.
And that’s done when, well, someone could be on the couch reading a magazine, someone could be cooking, and I don’t know, just hanging around the house basically. And then everyone is saying what they think should happen, and everyone’s putting their two bob’s worth in. So we need to be in a room. It doesn’t work well otherwise.
The sterility of the environment doesn’t really feel conducive to new music at the best of time, so it definitely makes sense as to why we’ve had to wait such a long time to finally receive new music.
Totally. Music is, I mean, the Latin or the Greek word ‘muse’ comes from that, and singing is like laughing or crying, or something. It should happen because you want it to happen. No so much because you want it to happen, but it should happen naturally and flow freely. That’s what we do. Y’know, there’s bands like Jimi Hendrix or Black Flag or something, the passion has to be there. It’s like flamenco music. If you recorded that remotely, it would just sound so stupid.
I mentioned tracks like “Suburbiopia” and “Legal Ghost” earlier. Were they always envisioned as being part of this album? Not only would things have changed quite a bit between their writing and release and then this album, but they feel more a bit more in line with the sound of Braindrops than the majority of this record, which feels quite frenetic.
Yeah, I mean, we’ve done records in the past where we’ve tried to make it sound consistent and like they’re all from the same place, and those records are great, but then I also like records that aren’t like that, and almost seem ad hoc in a sense. We don’t really consider it. If it sounds good, it goes on there [laughs].
“You’re meant to give a fuck about every possible thing, whether it’s the far left or the far right, y’know? It’s overwhelming.”
“G.A.F.F.” almost seem to represent how many of us would have felt throughout 2020 and now 2021. How exactly did that song come about? Listening to it sounds like like it would’ve been an incredibly cathartic experience borne out of an overwhelming exhaustion.
Yeah, it seems like it’s something that’s weighing on everybody, but a lot of people don’t feel like they can admit it because you’ll get shouted down. You’re meant to give a fuck about every possible thing, whether it’s the far left or the far right, y’know? It’s overwhelming.
You can’t fix all the world’s problems, and everything these days sees you so plugged into every single fucking calamity and any bad state of affairs. It’s like, “Fuck off, I am literally just trying to pay my rent. I have my own problems. I don’t need every single fucking thing weighing on me.”
And to have an opinion; everyone’s obliged to have an opinion on everything. I’m not an expert, so don’t ask me. You don’t see anyone on Twitter going, “I don’t know” [laughs]. Everyone’s putting their unqualified opinion about everything. But yeah, hopefully that song, it’s appeal should be that we’re admitting it. So you are allowed to admit.
Speaking of things you’re supposed to care about, “Suburbiopia” is about a suicide cult, while the album features references to other cult-like things, including Trump’s own political party, or how “Blue Beam Baby” mentions QAnon. Is this something that Tropical Fuck Storm particularly like to focus on, or is it just a coincidental common thread?
Yeah, that’s true. “Suburbiopia”, it’s meant to be ironic, just basically saying “how can you tell that a suicide cult, planning to commit suicide and then get onto a comet to go to a different planet, how do you know that didn’t work?” Maybe they’re sitting in paradise on some whole other planet, y’know?
It’s all just fascinating. My family is pretty much English by way of England itself and by way of – my dad’s side, he was born in Rio De Janeiro, and his mum was born in Buenos Aires, but they’re all English at the end of the day. So we have a history of conflict, with the 20th century and World War I, World War II, and all that.
So I’ve always been fascinated by the post-industrial rise of quasi-religious stuff, like Nazism or Communism. Y’know, all those atheistic versions of religion. You’ve got heretics, you’ve got blasphemers, and you’ve got ideologies, and all that stuff. I mean, we’re seeing a different version of that with shit like QAnon. Faith-based rather than fact-based stuff. So it’s just an extension of that fascination I’ve got with the 20th century.
Incidentally, many of the songs on the record that deal with that sort of thing feel so researched and intense. They feel like lived experiences rather than songs superficially written about something like that.
Yeah, sure! And “Blue Beam Baby and stuff like that, I mean, we were heading to Washington, D.C. about two years ago or something, and we were playing at Comet Ping Pong, which is the pizza parlour which was at the centre of Pizzagate and all that. And we had heard about Q and all that shit, and it wasn’t popular by any means at that point – well, nothing like it is now – but we had put a post up on social media saying, “Tomorrow night, we’re playing at Comet Ping Pong, come on down to the show”.
And the next morning we had looked at the comments and there were people saying, “Oh, you like pedophiles, do you?”. We were like, “What the fuck? What’s this?”. Because we had no idea what it was about. And then we went to the actual venue and they explained it. They’d had that guy come in with an AR-15 and shoot someone up… So yeah, we’ve been there [laughs], in a way. That’s a lived experience.
With the new record out in August, you’ve also got a tour kicking off right after that. How does it feel to actually announce a tour like that, in an environment such as this? (Editor’s Note: The band’s Australian tour has since been slightly rescheduled in accordance with COVID-related restrictions.)
I don’t know, I’m kind of in two minds about it. I mean, we’ve announced it, but since tours have been postponed so many times. I don’t know, we’ll see if it happens. Yeah, the whole year and a half has been a horrible process of cancelling shit, re-booking it, and then cancelling it, so yeah, you’d think I’d be more excited about it, really.
I mean, the other day, Jim White – who has played with Dirty Three, Cat Power, and all that – was recording some stuff with us and we were having a good time. Then he goes, “Alright, I gotta get the fuck out of here, I’ve got to drive down to like, Gippsland or something and play some gigs with Ed Kuepper.” He had like four or five gigs scheduled for the weekend. And he hadn’t been gone for three hours when the state went into lockdown and he had everything cancelled. So that’s a pretty good example of what we’re going through right now.
Tropical Fuck Storm’s Deep States is out now, with an Australian tour currently planned to commence next month.
Tropical Fuck Storm Deep States Australian Tour 2021
With special guest Michael Beach
Thursday, September 9th
The Eastern, Ballarat, VIC
Friday, September 10th
Barwon Heads Hotel, Barwon Heads, VIC
Sunday, September 12th
Theatre Royal, Castlemaine, VIC
Sunday, September 26th
Princess Theatre, Brisbane, QLD
Sunday, October 10th (New Date)
(Originally Sunday, August 22nd)
Forum, Melbourne, VIC
Wednesday, October 13th (New Date)
(Originally Saturday, September 4th)
Freo Social, Fremantle, WA
Thursday, October 14th (New Date)
(Originally Friday, September 3rd)
Charles Hotel, Perth, WA
Friday, October 15th (New Date)
(Originally Thursday, September 2nd)
The Gov, Adelaide, SA
Tickets on sale now via the Tropical Fuck Storm website