David Herinton*

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“The Big Australian Coup”: The Continuing Rise Of Dune Rats

With number one albums to their name, sold-out tours, and a relentless legion of dedicated fans, Dune Rats are on top of the world.

It’s a full house at Melbourne’s Festival Hall and the clock is ticking closer to showtime for the headline act. Legions of fans are here to see Brisbane’s Dune Rats, and their excitement is reaching fever pitch. They cheer, applaud, and stamp their feet, eagerly – and somewhat anxiously – anticipating the arrival of the band whose name adorns the marquee. Considering that the Dunies themselves are only weeks removed from their second number one album, it could be easy to assume this anxiety would translate to the band itself.

Backstage though, it’s a totally different story. Drummer BC Michaels drifts between conversations with members of support act Dear Seattle, casually sipping a Corona, while bassist Brett Jansch occasionally ventures out into the crowd in his Descendents shirt, shaking hands and watching acts like Totty – which features his sister Kelly on guitar and vocals – from the barrier.

Meanwhile, frontman Danny Beus searches for some gum, finding salvation thanks to Ruby Fields’ entourage. For a band who is about to kick off the last date of an Aussie tour before a run of international shows, it feels strange; surely it’s not always this subdued, right?

You could easily be forgiven for expecting lavish rock star antics from the group, complete with upturned tables and brazen behaviour. Instead, the aforementioned tables offer up numerous bags of slowly-disappearing Nando’s, and the only raucous behaviour is Beus loudly perfecting the opening lines to “Rubber Arm” as a warm-up. The hazy, long-haired antics seen in film clips like “Red Light Green Light” could not be further from reality. Instead, we’re witnessing the very definition of a bunch of average blokes gearing up to go to work.

“When we first started, hand on heart, we thought if we can get $200 bucks and split it, that’s $100 bucks each. That’s beer for the night’.”

“When we first started, hand on heart, we thought if we can get $200 bucks and split it, that’s $100 bucks each. That’s beer for the night’,” Beus recalls of the band’s early days as a duo. ”It was probably about six months before we thought – when we started playing shows in Sydney, and Perth – ‘Fuck man, we could probably do this for more than beer.’”

This unassuming origin story all kicked off about a decade ago, with Beus and Michaels having met after their respective bands failed to win a Brisbane band competition.

“I had this rehearsal studio for two weeks, and we just thought, ‘Let’s just muck around for two weeks,’” he recalls. “I left that band and I was really looking down the barrel of just going into a nine-to-five and being content with that. I gave music a pretty solid dig.

Image of Dune Rats

“It felt like the big Australian coup,” says Dune Rats frontman Danny Beus of their continuing success. (Photo by Ian Laidlaw)

“Then Tim Morrissey from The John Steel Singers walked past the recording studio and said, ‘Hey dudes, some of those songs are pretty catchy, I’m getting into recording bands and I’d do an EP for you.’ And we thought, ‘What’s the harm?’. Two days later, we recorded the first EP and from there, we got onto a blog or something, and that’s when people were saying, ‘Come to Sydney!’

“For us, it was meant to be a two-week fuck around; drink some beers in this rehearsal room that was near The Valley before going out, have some weed. It turned into a lot of years doing it.

“It was meant to be a two-week fuck around; drink some beers in this rehearsal room that was near The Valley before going out, have some weed. It turned into a lot of years doing it.”

While Dune Rats’ self-titled debut reached a respectable 22 on the ARIA Albums chart in 2014, their 2017 follow-up, The Kids Will Know It’s Bullshit, managed to debut at number one. Three years later, and the band repeated the same feat with their third album, Hurry Up and Wait, much to their surprise.

“It felt like the big Australian coup,” Beus says with a grateful laugh. “We were looking up there and it had us, Eminem, Harry from One Direction, and another One Direction dude, and Taylor Swift, even though it’s been about 90 weeks since her album came out. But it felt like we shouldn’t be up there.

“The first number one was fucking weird, but we had a huge amount of momentum and we were really on the come up. The second time, it just felt super sweet because often you wonder when you’re in a band, ‘Is this a fad? Are we on the down slide?’ To have an album three years later and it goes to number one, it was super humbling.”

As Beus recalls, the band had received an update about their album’s potential performance from their management before boarding a flight to Tasmania, who noted a silver medal on that week’s charts was looking likely. However, by the time they’d landed, it was a tale of chart-topping success waiting for them inside the terminal.

“Honestly, it felt a bit like Steven Bradbury,” Beus remembers with a laugh. “Not to take away how hard we worked, but it felt like we just kept pushing, and that week we were really pushing the album, and yeah, it felt really good to get a little thing for the mantlepiece.”

Though Beus’ comparison of Dune Rats’ success to that of Steven Bradbury’s come-from-behind victory at the 2002 Winter Olympics is apt, it would be foolish to undermine the band’s gradual rise to the top, slowly going from playing support slots at venues such as The Tote in Collingwood in 2011 to headlining the likes of Melbourne’s Festival Hall nine years later.

“I’m sure athletes that win a Grand Final would agree that it’s such a small step, step, step, process,” Beus notes. “I remember we won triple j Unearthed and played the 2012 Big Day Out and couldn’t believe we were playing Big Day Out. Then we got our first Splendour in the Grass, then our first album charted at something in the 20s, and we were blown away. I think every little small win has made it easier to cope, but when you think about it, it’s still fucking weird.”

As the band’s career has evolved, so too has the band itself. It could be easy to write them off as a trio of long-haired lads who are stuck in a state of perpetual adolescence, constantly blowing off responsibilities in favour of crafting a catchy new radio single. However, a chat with Beus sees that whole façade some crashing down, revealing a down-to-earth individual with a desire to be seen as much more.

“People like to think songs such as “Scott Green” and “Bullshit” are just slacker, party songs, but if you look a little bit behind them, there’s other stuff in there,” he reveals. “With our single “Stupid Is As Stupid Does”, some people take that as just mates having a funny effect on each other, and other people can take it as a relationship song. We just try not to pigeonhole each song, and try to make it appeal to a bunch of people.

“When someone comes up and says, ‘I want to punch cones with you,’ we kind of say, ‘Yeah, that’s one side of us, but there is another.’ When people come up to you and tell you that this is what a song is about, it’s like, ‘Yeah, that’s a bit of what it’s about,’ but they haven’t quite read underneath it – and we kind of like that.

“There’s that element where people just think our life is constantly ripping cones and doing that, but we work pretty hard as well – merch ranges, proper tours, syncs, and deals. I think it’s a mixture of both.”

“When someone comes up and says, ‘I want to punch cones with you,’ we kind of say, ‘Yeah, that’s one side of us, but there is another.’”

For the band though, they approach any cynicism from the general public with a jovial sense of humor, remaining intent on evolving and continuing to expand their roster of songs without alienating the fans who first listened to them for their fun-loving nature.

“Returning to the Steven Bradbury comment, we feel that it’s funny, because people ask, ‘What are they doing at number one?’, but behind that comes a shit-tonne of work. Steven was skating his arse off all year round to even get to that position. So for us to even get to that point where we’re releasing an album takes years of writing in rooms, touring, and not seeing our family.

“It’s pretty easy to go, ‘Okay, let’s write another ten songs about drinking beers and smoking cones.’ But the other side is the stuff we like writing about; stronger content. “Crazy” was a lot heavier than what we’d usually do, but the content was a bit heavier, too.

“We’ve had some mates go through stuff with excess, and we had a mate pass away because of it. So it was like the party lifestyle was getting a bit much for some people. We wanted to write a song that was taking note of excess in general. We said, ‘Let’s write a song about this sort of stuff,’ because it actually matters, especially to our mates.”

Speaking of what’s on the cards for album number four, Beus notes that the band will be making more of a conscious effort to bring the party side back to the forefront, and ensuring there’s a fair balance between the content of their forthcoming songs.

“Not to say there won’t be some serious content in the songs, but we’ve flexed a bit of the serious side, and now we want to come back,” he explains. “We’ve got a few cracker ones for the next one already; we’ve sort of got it half-written. We like to keep it pretty even.

“When we feel like we’ve exhausted his album, we just want to just drop another banger. It’s actually already got a film clip and stuff.”

In fact, while Beus himself noted in a press release for the album that Dune Rats “don’t want to be the ‘Scott Green’ band forever,” he explains that the trio are intent on just being themselves, making music that not only matters to them, but that they can proudly put their name behind.

“We went out to Calabasas, California and wrote with John Feldmann from Goldfinger, which was epic,” Beus recalls of Hurry Up and Wait’s conception. “It was huge, but in the same way, going over there – and we wrote with Miro Mackie who’s a good mate of ours – and experiencing that really cemented who we were, and what sort of band we were, and what we want to write about.

“We were writing, and he said, ‘You should write “drag me out the club”’, and we told him, ‘Where we grew up, ‘the club’ is the RSL club’, so it just didn’t resonate with us. It was probably more beneficial to go over there to find out what we didn’t want to turn into or write about.

“At the end of it, we had all these songs, and the ones that really resonated were the ones we wrote back here and wanted to record here, because there were toss ups about whether or not we’d go over to Los Angeles and record. But we just thought, ‘Nah man, it’s just not us; it’s not Dunies’. So we decided just to come back to the Central Coast, hung out there, and got our mate James [Tidswell] from Violent Soho to just be there, in sort of a producer role.”

Though most bands dream of hitting the top of the ARIA charts, selling out shows and tours, and curating a sizeable fanbase, Dune Rats take it all in their stride. With milestones and opportunities coming at them thick and fast, the group have no grandiose goals for the future, instead remaining content with what they’ve achieved so far and taking it all as it comes.

“We’d also love to just tour with some of our favourite bands, that would be huge” Beus says. “We’d love to get a massive lineup, and I feel wanky just saying it, but with bands like blink-182 and others like that.

“We’ve well and truly gone above and beyond expectations, so from here it’s like, whatever comes, we’re really happy with it. It’s taken us nine years to get to this stage, so if it takes nine years to go back to playing in rehearsal rooms for $200 bucks, then that’s a pretty good 20 years.

“It’s taken us nine years to get to this stage, so if it takes nine years to go back to playing in rehearsal rooms for $200 bucks, then that’s a pretty good 20 years.”

Back at Festival Hall, massive chants for “Dunies” precede the band’s triumphant arrival onstage. As they belt out the phrase “crazy motherfuckers” from their latest album cut “Bobby D” like it’s a mission statement, audience members are churning in and out of the mosh in pure ecstasy. Singalongs spring up, as do columns of flames from pyrotechnics, resulting in one of the greatest stage shows you’ll find anywhere.

Backstage after the show, the celebrations are just as humble as their pre-show ritual. There’s no rock star behaviour, but rather high fives, hugs, and joyous kisses for everyone – support bands, crew, and photographers.

It’s business as usual now, with thoughts drifting to the afterparty, upcoming studio time, and rehearsals for future tour dates, despite having just played one of the biggest shows that Festival Hall will host all year. Not bad at all for some blokes who started a band just to raise beer money.