Tristan McKenzie*

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The Perpetual Rise of Psychedelic Porn Crumpets

From humble beginnings to worldwide fame, Psychedelic Porn Crumpets are putting Aussie psych-rock on the map without even trying.

Like all the best inventions, Perth’s Psychedelic Porn Crumpets were born out of a simple idea that soon got out of control. Of course, most simple ideas don’t usually result in a group of humble musicians touring the world, rubbing shoulders with iconic artists, and kicking goals most lifelong tunesmiths could only dream of, do they?

That, however, is exactly where we find Psychedelic Porn Crumpets in 2021. The Porn Crumpets’ (as brevity dictates) origin story is one that countless artists around the world could relate to, with English-born Jack McEwan launching the group as a solo bedroom project during a period of procrastination between uni studies. 

Having performed in a Radiohead-inspired indie-rock outfit with drummer Danny Caddy beforehand, it was a chance meeting through connections that brought Golden Slums guitarist – and former semi-professional skateboarder – Luke Parish into his life.

“Me and Luke actually met through a mutual drug dealer,” McEwan recalls over Skype, his south-eastern English accent offering up a hearty laugh as he does so. “I’d end up bringing my little amp and guitar around there, because I think we spent most weekends there.

“[The dealer] had an electronic drum kit, and then Rish came around, and he started playing drums, or something like that, and we just kept going. I’d play drums, Rish would play guitar, and then we’d keep swapping.”

Even today, many years later, Parish is still saved in McEwan’s phone contacts as “Luke Jams”. After all, the idea of forming a new band with his new musical mate wasn’t quite on the cards yet. A few months after they first jammed together, McEwan showed Parish an early demo of “Cornflake”, with the guitarist so taken by what he had heard that he met with McEwan the very next day to record the guitar parts for what is now the track “Cubensis Lenses”. 

Thus the Psychedelic Porn Crumpets were born, with the full lineup being rounded out by the addition of Caddy, guitarist/keyboardist Chris Young, and bassist Luke Reynolds, who departed in 2020.

Image of Psychedelic Porn Crumpets

(Photo: Tristan McKenzie)

By this point in 2014, McEwan was living in an “old barn” in Leederville – a suburb north-west of Perth – and the nascent outfit was still two years away from the release of their debut album, and a spot of early recognition as one of triple j Unearthed’s Feature Artists.

At the time of Psychedelic Porn Crumpets’ arrival into the world in late 2014, the Perth scene they were born into was a perfect breeding ground for their type of music. “It was this real bubble of guitar-based bands, like blues and psych,” Parish recalls, raising his voice to be heard over a neighbour’s exceedingly-loud gardening routine. “There was a real explosion at that point.”

“Everybody had a Cry Baby Wah and a facemelter fuzz pedal,” quips McEwan, as he professes his love of local groups such as Red Engine Caves, the Love Junkies, or even Parish’s Golden Slums.

“We just managed to get the tail-end [of the psych scene] after Tame Impala and Pond,” he adds. “The door was still open for that style of music. For us, it was like Australia had sort of died down a bit, just as Europe and America was getting wind of it.”

“We sort of just managed to get the tail-end [of the psych scene] after Tame Impala and Pond. The door was still open for that style of music.

While acts such as the aforementioned Perth locals Tame Impala and Pond had served as influences upon the entire Australian music scene, McEwan notes that he had been fond of bigger names like Karnivool, The Mars Volta, Wolfmother, and Tool before Kevin Parker’s brand of music helped to kick things off.

“As soon as you went and saw them, you were like, ‘Holy fuck, that is one of the coolest things I’ve ever heard’,” he recalls. “I mean, before that, the rockiest sound on the radio was Pete Murray’s ‘Class A’.”

The local Perth music scene was undergoing a few changes when the Porn Crumpets entered the fray. Major festivals such as the Big Day Out and Soundwave had just held their final events in the city, leaving only Laneway (held in Fremantle) and Southbound (held in Busselton) as the big draw cards on WA’s musical lineup. Instead of imploding, the local scene thrived, with countless artists springing up to fill the Perth stages which rarely played host to as many international acts as some fans would have liked.

“It was like, ‘Well there’s no jazz fusion band here’, and then you end up with Grievous Bodily Calm, and, ‘There’s no other bands trying to do punk music, and we don’t have that’, so Boat Show came out of that,” McEwan recalls. “There was a big gap for people to be able to do their thing and not have the battle of competing with international artists.”

It was this fertile ground that allowed bands like Psychedelic Porn Crumpets to fulfil a musical need and find their feet. Relentless live shows allowed the group to hone their talents on the live stage, growing their profile as a presence on the local scene. Behind the scenes though, the group worked tirelessly at becoming a force to be reckoned with in the studio.

“We also said that the goal was to play Glastonbury at some point, and I think that was sort of what kept us going. […] We could retire after that.”

“I feel there’s two elements to the band,” Parish explains of what could be the group’s mission statement. “I think the live show is its own thing entirely. A lot of the recordings are almost unachievable live. The live show is bringing all the energy of the records to people in the best way you can. It’s like two projects. You’ve got one recording project, and then the live thing is like a whole other project altogether.

“I’d say there’d be two different mission statements, which is making stuff sound really good in the studio, and then putting on the highest energy level set you can without going to hospital.”

“We had a big emphasis on getting production right,” McEwan adds of the band’s goals. “But we also said that the goal was to play Glastonbury at some point, and I think that was sort of what kept us going. And I think we were really close [in 2020], and then it [was cancelled]. We could retire after that. It’d be like, ‘Hang the boots up, that’s it, great round boys. I’m going to go and be a professional golfer – or an amateur golfer’.”

Image of Psychedelic Porn Crumpets

(Photo: Tristan McKenzie)

It was 2016 that saw the Porn Crumpets release their first album, with High Visceral {Part One} being put out by Perth’s Rhubarb Records. Part Two duly followed the next year, as did a collection of B-sides, before a prolific period of touring and writing gave rise to one of the band’s biggest years to date, with countless shows played both here and abroad.

“It was like, two or three years we probably did in Perth, just constantly doing shows,” Parish recalls. “Just working ourselves up from smaller venues to bigger venues. I think it wasn’t until we got our current manager [Murray Curnow] on board that he pushed us to go overseas for the first time.

“I don’t think we ever looked back. It’s always, ‘What are we going to do next? Where are we going to play? Can we make it bigger? How can we make it better?’”

Of course, an international debut wasn’t without its hiccups. Their first date in the UK – a two-show evening at London’s Blondies in 2018 – saw them play to a 40-cap room, only to get a parking ticket out the front of the venue. Making musical lemonade out of litigious lemons, the enterprising group decided to use their illegally-parked van as the merch table for the night.

From there though, their profile only continued to rise. Releasing their third album, And Now For The Whatchamacallit, in early 2019, the band spent most of the year touring relentlessly. Support slots for New York post-punk legends Interpol opened the year in Australia, while more shows with the American outfit continued internationally. At an Interpol show in Germany, a Dutch fan approached the group, having spent approximately €80 solely to witness the Aussie openers do their thing.

The extensive international touring of the year comprised a dizzying itinerary of shows across Europe and the US, with the band finding new fans all the time. In Los Angeles, the band found themselves recognised by a fan in a Whole Foods supermarket – something they claim doesn’t even happen in Perth. While serving as the lone Aussie representation at the Desert Daze festival, the group struck up a friendship with the likes of Devo and skateboarding icon Tony Hawk.

“We were backstage with Devo, and they were like, ‘Come and try some of our Napa Valley wine’,” McEwan remembers with an infectious, and mischievous, smile. “They were just knocking on doors, and we were like, ‘Holy shit, Devo just invited us to hang out with them! Yeah, okay, we’ll go there.’ 

“And Tony Hawk was there, sipping wine, and we were like, ‘Holy fuck, we’re going to go and talk to Tony Hawk!’ We just beelined for him, and we ended up having a chat. Apparently his wife knew the Porn Crumpets.”

The group can’t exactly work out why it is that they’re so popular overseas compared to their established – but undoubtedly lesser – reputation in their home country. While it could be the fact that psych-rock is a comparatively exotic genre internationally, McEwan and Parish think it could simply be because of the reputation Australia has.

“We’re from Australia, but everyone here is like, ‘You’re just another band in Australia.’ Things are more special if they’re from somewhere else.”

“It’s that thing where people’s perceptions are always different if you’re from somewhere else,” Parish muses, grabbing a wayward beer back from his bandmate. “We’re from Australia, but everyone here is like, ‘You’re just another band in Australia.’ Things are more special if they’re from somewhere else.”

“[Australia is] like a really friendly dog,” McEwan adds as one of his typically-unique analogies. ”It doesn’t do any harm to anyone, it’s this lovely little spot, and when you go over there and you’re like, ‘I’m from Australia’, you manage to play these bigger rooms. [The music scene] has got this cool affiliation with it as well.”

“We’re really lucky that music is what we do, and that the band became like a job.”

Of course, there’s a catch-22 at play when it comes to having a higher level of popularity overseas, with the group noting that Australian artists are in a position where it’s actually possible to make money off their music. Specifically, they note how in Europe and America, bands are forced to give the booking agent, venue, and promoter a cut of their takings.

“We played a gig in France, we played a 300-cap room, at like 30 or 40 euros a ticket,” McEwan recalls. “We ended up making $30 and we sold it out. We were like, ‘How the hell does that even happen?’ We literally couldn’t even afford a pint afterwards.

“There’s no way to make money as a band over there. Maybe you would get a really interesting band come through for one year, and then they’ll be like, ‘Sweet, I’m going back [to my job] – I can’t even afford the pedals that I’m using’.”

It was near the end of their international tour in 2019 that the group dropped the first taste of their fourth record, a track named “Mundungus”. Released as a means of keeping up momentum while they were on tour, it did raise questions, namely, “How on earth do they find time to write and record?” As the band admits, it’s rather easy to find time to lay down tracks, especially without other commitments and a home studio.

“I literally do it every day. It’s not like we have hobbies,” McEwan laughs. “We’re really lucky that music is what we do, and that the band became like a job.”

“No one needs to book out studio time necessarily,” adds Parish. “Most of the work gets done about three feet from the bed.”

This loose existence for Porn Crumpets also helped in the creation of their latest record, SHYGA! The Sunlight Mound. While plans had been in place for the record to be released in May, the sudden shift in the global music scene in 2020 gave the band a sense of freedom not seen since their first album.

“It’s a thing where if you just write and you put out whatever you want, you’re not just trying to write ten songs,” McEwan explains. “It gave us that artistry back that we could create a whole piece of music.”

“With the whole industry being in limbo, it kind of took that pressure off of us to just make anything, and to spend time on details that just get overlooked when you’ve got deadlines,” adds Parish.

“It gave us that artistry back that we could create a whole piece of music.”

The ability to write without the pressure of deadlines meant that the sessions for SHYGA! originally gave the band around 50 tracks to work from. However, while deadlines can sometimes result in less-than-perfect material going out into the world for some artists, it also provides them with too much time to overthink their creations.

“I remember calling up our manager [a few] months ago and being like, ‘Man, I need to change the key of this song!’, and he was like, ‘It’s already on vinyl!” McEwan laughs.

“I almost need to just let it go. You could work on a record forever.”

Thankfully, the idea of working on an album forever, à la Guns N’ Roses’ infamous Chinese Democracy, fell by the wayside, with the Porn Crumpets able to not only nail down a handful of songs, but approach a bunch of new styles and influences, with a few somewhat unexpected artists playing a small role in the record’s final sound.

“Oh, we would’ve released a monstrosity [if COVID hadn’t happened],” McEwan jokes. “It would’ve been absolutely vile to put your ears around it. Nah, I think it would’ve been way different. It would’ve been like, Nine Inch Nails crossed with the Beach Boys – it literally would’ve been that. Now it’s Beach Boys all the way.”

Ultimately, SHYGA! became a record that was helped along by the advent of COVID, with the freedom provided by a year of stasis helping the Porn Crumpets reach greater heights than if their continual rise in popularity had persisted. 

To be creative, time is the one thing that is your friend,” explains McEwan. “COVID really managed to put us into a headspace where… It’s like when you’re ill off school, but there’s a lingering feeling in the back of your mind like, ‘I’ve got to go back at some point.’ 

“It was like feeling like you’d had the switch [flicked] and all your [obligations] were gone.”

Instead, 2020 served as something of an eternal day off school where the “day-to-day monotony” had been replaced by an ability to allow ideas to flow and form, with a concerted effort to avoid stagnation and instead focus on musical evolution serving as the main priority for the group’s members.

The result has been truly masterful, and now with SHYGA! (the record they say they’re the most proud of) now out into the world, and with wider touring not quite back on the cards (a planned tour in support of Ocean Alley has been postponed twice now), the question of what is next for the Porn Crumpets is simply answered by the business-as-usual approach of writing and recording new music.

“At the moment, we’re just writing the next one,” McEwan explains. “It’s good, because you listen back to a record – say SHYGA! – and I feel that everything that wasn’t on that record we can focus onto the next one. 

“It’ll be its heavy brother, which will be like the metal version I’ve wanted to create for ages. It’s almost going back to my prepubescent Tool, Mars Volta, Karnivool-era of just being like, ‘Oh God, give me riffs!’ with that heavy Deftones kind of sound.”

The Psychedelic Porn Crumpets are impossible to predict, easy to love, and their future remains as unpredictable as ever. However, if there’s one thing that’s certain, it’s that new, innovative music will never be far behind.