• Gregory Alekseenko

A Talk With Wardens

Hailing from Melbourne’s south side, Wardens have barely been around for half a year, but have already been making waves in the live scene with their no-nonsense, energetic brand of punk rock. Featuring the talents of high school friends Darcy Luscombe (guitar, vocals), Tim Kati (bass guitar) and Tom Orlando (drums), Wardens have recently released their debut EP Fleece. But, they say, the EP is just the tip of what they’ve got in store this year. On a bustling Thursday night, I caught up with Wardens at their unofficial home base, the On Top bar in Ormond, where they had just played a memorable homecoming gig to launch the EP the Saturday before.

So, the cover art, I understand, was done by artist [and high school friend] Max Johnson [@max.gif on insta]… Did you have an idea in mind or did he just come up with something for it? Tom: We originally always wanted to use Max for our album covers, and just the general band image… Tim: We love his artwork. Tom: Yeah, we all have T-shirts and stuff with his artwork on it, and it’s a pretty unique sort of thing, it’s got a very… unique style to it. We just really liked the sort of style that he had and then we were like, it’d be awesome if we could associate all our music with a specific sort of style, like, an image, just so in people’s minds it kind of resonates, so whenever they see his work they think of us [and vice versa]. So then we had a couple of ideas of what we wanted it to look like. The first iteration for the Holiday cover… Tim: We thought it was okay, but… looking back, it was dreadful. No offence to Maxo, but… I mean, it was alright, but what he came up with afterwards was just way better. Tom: With proper direction - cause at first, we were kinda like, we want something that fits in with the music, what the song’s about, it’d be cool to have something holiday related, maybe something that relates to some of the lyrics, and he came up with a very basic sort of thing, which we kind of pushed him to do, and then very quickly we realised - nah, this can’t be, ‘cause we were kinda pressing what Max usually does with his artwork, which is really quirky, really out there… Darcy: Quite abstract. Tom: Yeah, and we were trying to funnel it down to this one thing, but we were like… let’s try this again, and you just do your thing, what you usually do, but just have a brief sort of undertone of, like, holiday, as a very broad thing, and then just see what you can come up with. And then he came up with the first iteration, and we were like, yeah, this is sick. Tim: Yeah, he’s absolutely nailed it. Darcy: And then we did the cover for Fleece, we were just like, let Max do his own thing, but we gave him a very vague outline of being, like, if you could somehow include some sort of visual representation of us three… Tim: But it looks nothing like us [laughs]. Darcy: It looks nothing like us, but it doesn’t really matter, it could be anyone, it’s just three dudes on the cover - there’s not much else going on, it’s pretty ambiguous. Tom: Open for interpretation. Darcy: And I think, with the example of using Max, one of our best friends, for artwork and stuff, the same kinda ethos of, like, we wanna include all of our friends in the band environment as much as possible, so we’ve got our mate Hodgy [@d_hodgson.exe on insta] doing the filming for us, and Calum [@calum_bel on insta], another friend, doing photos and like, when we do music videos, I’m sure we’ll get all our mates to play parts or be in the video, it’s like a natural thing, we want all of our people that are around us to be involved in it, ‘cause all of our friends are really creative, so if we can take something that they’ve got and use it for ourselves as well, if they’re willing, it just benefits everyone in general, so that’s been one of the best things, I think, for me as well - seeing what other people able to- like, Hodgy’s been, from the very start, even before we were playing shows, he recorded us when we were doing the studio recording for the EP, he’s been there the whole time, and I’m sure he’ll be there for every other thing. Tim: Till the end. Darcy: Till the end! [laughs] It’s good, it’s been really really good, that kinda collaborative thing. ‘Cause we have no fuckin’ clue what we’re doing when it comes to artwork or filming… Tim: But all our mates are arty [cunts]. [laughs] It’s great to have that, kind of, circle of people. Darcy: Yeah, it almost kind of feels like you’re in, like, a scene sorta thing, which is cool, like it’s the same with all the bands we’ve been playing with, we’ve played with a few bands a number of times and we’re always playing; a bunch of shows we’ve got coming up, we’re gonna play with new bands, they always seem to be coming up on facebook events - like, playing here, and it’s like, cool, we know them, and they’re playing with another band we know, and then we’ll play with them next week or something, so it’s pretty awesome feeling like you’re getting into a scene in Melbourne - even though it might just be tiny, we have no idea really, it’s hard to look above everything, but it feels pretty cool. I suppose there are so many different scenes just everywhere in Melbourne, they’re kind of, I guess you could say, microscenes.

Tom: Do you wanna talk about the EP recording process, and how that came to life? Yeah, and the, kind of, writing of the songs, I guess. Tim: We recorded it with a bloke called Julian Meyer, he did our EP. Darcy: He’s a really good dude. Tim: He’s really good, yeah. We did the drums at this fuckoff studio, Black Pearl, and that’s why Tommy’s drums sound so huge. Darcy: Yeah! Fuck, this place was an absolute treasure trove - I walked in there and thought I’d died and gone to heaven, it was ridiculous, like, run by this crazy Russian bloke called Yuri. Tim: He’s got a bit of a reputation. Darcy: I loved him, I thought he was intriguing. Tim: He was really nice to all of us, I think he really liked us. Darcy: It was great, it was almost kinda overwhelming, I think, for us, because when we recorded the EP, we recorded it in, like, September or November last year, and by that point we’d played, like, one show, so we were brand spankin’ new, we just had these songs we knew we wanted to record, so we’ve gone to this studio - me and Tom have recorded music at places before, like [at school] - this place was fuckin’ insane, just rooms and rooms of… huge live rooms, huge wooden ceilings and floors and walls, and millions of dollars of… Tim: Totally overkill, it was more gear there than you’d know what to do with… Darcy: Millions of millions of dollars worth of gear. Millions, like easily. But it was mental - we only did the drums there, but we used 20-something mics on the drum kit alone, this huge room, these thousands of dollars of drum equipment; me and Tim, we got to do just the guide tracks for the drums, I was playing a ‘63 Jazzmaster original, Tim was playing like some fuckoff Mayones bass, it was mental. And it was amazing, and we literally spent the whole day there till like 7 or 8 at night, starting at like 9am, doing this stuff. Tim: ‘Cause we thought, y’know, we’re not gonna record on a shitty electric kit, and Tom’s, y’know, he’s an alright drummer [Tom laughs], so we thought it’d definitely be worthwhile to fork out and really get a great drum sound. Darcy: We spent- it was $1500 per song for the producer alone, and renting this studio for one day was $500, that’s not including the producer price, so that’s how good this place was. And then we did the rest of it in Julian’s house in Bentleigh - guitars, bass and vocals, but it didn’t matter ‘cause once we had that drum sound, which was just immense… Kinda just built everything around it. Darcy: Yeah, exactly. The recording process was actually really awesome, it was just three days in a row of recording three songs. It was a great experience. Tim: It was a great three days. Every morning we’d just wake up and just go and just work on music all day. Darcy: We didn’t wanna fuck around, we didn’t wanna be one of the bands that’s like, ‘we’re just starting out, we’ll eventually record a single and we’ll record it with our mate and it’ll sound, like, half average,’ we were like, nah, we got three songs, we wanna get them good ‘cause we think at least two of these have real hit potential, let’s get them properly recorded, we spent a lot of money on it, came out really good, so we’re glad that we put it out there. But also, the thing is, like, I wrote the music for those songs months in advance, we had them waiting - I wrote the structure, the riffs and all that, the vocal melodies, and then bring them to these dudes in rehearsal and we’d work out all the kinks, and the - what’s the word - arrangement. ‘Cause most of the time, when it’s the writing process, not just for the EP, but for most of the music, I’ll write the riffs and the melodies and the general structure, but the songs don’t come to life until I bring them to these guys, and they’ll be, like, the arrangers. Tim: Basically, Lus [Darcy] comes at us with all these great ideas in sort of a bare bones structure of what the song’s gonna sound like, and then me and Tom just really hammer down on it and just polish it into a proper song. Tom: I reckon the best part is that we’ll get to, like, a first draft of the song which we’re all like, yeah, this is sounding pretty cool, it’s got a nice structure, it’s got a start and finish, good parts in between, then we’ll keep playing the song and playing the song and playing the song and then all these different parts take up their own life and basically from there, it’s just - as we iterate through a bunch of different times, all these different little things pop up, and that’s where the songs really start to become polished, like, really good songs. Tim: And just come up with these cool little parts - example is in the song “Queenie”, in that jam section in the middle, we sort of just jammed that out as a band. Darcy: That was entirely written as a group, that wasn’t me coming with the idea, that was completely us three together. Tim: We sorta thought, there’s a section here, this song’s sounding great, but there’s a cool section where we can really do something with it, we all sort of… pretty much came through as a jam, and that’s where that section came from. And going forward with a lot of our new tracks we’re doing now as well, we’ve started to get that a lot more, getting these cool jammy sections flowing through. Darcy: It’s becoming much more collaborative. I mean, the general idea is, I’ll bring the ideas to the guys, but it’s becoming more and more like - it used to be, like, 20% of the song would be collaborative, whereas now it’s almost like half-half, the process is me bringing a structure and then the rest is just full-on collaborative band writing. Tim: I think we’ve found a system that really works with all three of us. Darcy: Yeah, it’s been good so far. And I mean, don’t wanna get too off-topic, but that process that we’ve had, has made the songs that we’re writing now almost - well, not entirely unrecognisable from the EP, for example, but they’re moving way more into the kind of music that we used to play together, that we listen to. They’re getting way more… I don’t wanna say prog, maybe a little proggy, a little bit kinda like Fugazi, y’know, longer songs, more weird time signatures and stuff, but still for me personally, the ethos - every song - it doesn’t matter what happens on the verses, the bridge, pre-choruses or the ending, the chorus has to be a straight power chord belter chorus, and everything else can work itself around that. Which is exactly what’s happened for pretty much every song we have - sections that trail off and get delayed and weird time signatures, but it gets back into the chorus where it’s just like *dun-dun-dun-dun*. Tim: Always bring it back to that harmony, catchy kind of… Darcy: A punchy chorus with a strong melody. Tom: That’s really defined the sound that we’ve had to this day - we’ll have very simple songs that are catchy, then we’re all able musicians and we all have different creative directions we all wanna take with it, and just, through, again, that iterating process, where we keep playing different things, we think of different ideas that are kind of out of the norm and then end up melding a simple sort of punk rock song with a part from this, a part which is sort of funky, groovy, like… and then it just takes its own shape and it’s so good for us ‘cause we get to play what we love, and it also has a sound of its own versus just, ‘let’s just play a normal punk song’. Tim: Or some crazy fuckin’ 10 minute prog track. Tom: Exactly, yeah. So, we can do both, but… Darcy: No-one gives a shit about the first, and no-one gives a shit about the latter either, so… Tim: We’re trying to meld those into one sort of sound. Darcy: And I feel like we’ve done it pretty successfully so far. It’s hard to say ‘cause the music that you’ve heard recorded on the EP is quite different - well, significantly different to the stuff we’ve been writing recently, but… Tim: It’s got the same ethos though. Darcy: The crowds that we play to really enjoy it, so it gives us hope that when we eventually record these new songs, that people will still enjoy them. Tim: And I think that’s one of our plans going forward as well, we’re gonna be recording some more songs, and getting those out there as well. Darcy: Hopefully this year. Definitely this year. Tim: In the next couple of months, mate! Darcy: Yeah, the next little while, definitely.

Wardens EP cover

And will you be working with the same people you recorded the EP with? [All laugh] Tim: Ooh, the tough question!  Darcy: We don’t know.  Tim: We haven’t decided yet.  Darcy: ‘Cause… it’s expensive, that’s the main thing, it’s really expensive, we don’t really wanna sacrifice - it’d be the shittest thing to come out with this EP and then come out with another one where the production quality is lesser. We wanna keep going forward. But then also, it’s also like, will the quality of the songs themselves be able to salvage that? But it will get done this year at some point soon, but we just don’t know for sure yet. We’re saving the money we’re making from shows, which isn’t too much, but… it adds up.  Tim: At a lot of our gigs - so, I don’t have a tuner for the bass, so before we play, I’m plugging into Luscombe’s pedal board to tune it up and he hates it, he gets so pissed off… Darcy: I hate it… [laughs] It’s so stupid, it looks so unprofessional.  Tim: So, one of the first things we gotta do is put some of the band money towards a tuner pedal.  Darcy: I think you should buy your own fuckin’ tuner pedal, mate [laughs].  Tim: I like your tuner pedal.  Darcy: You can buy one, they’re not that expensive, they’re like $100, you’ll be right, you can get it yourself. Anyway…  So, you’re becoming a lot more fleshed out, but with the same process.  Tim: Yeah, we’re just getting really good at playing together, and we’re great mates as well, so that helps, makes it really easy.  Since you mentioned playing live - what was your first gig like, and what’s it been like playing live, in general?  Darcy : Our first gig was at my ex-girlfriend’s party, which was in October last year, so that was before we’d recorded anything, our setlist was about 20 minutes, so it was… 6 songs that we’d written in the course of like a month or two. It was really good actually, it was the first time any of us had played live in about five years - ‘cause me and Tom had been playing live previously in our old band. Darcy: So, we were playing to mostly our mates and it was actually really really good, it was in a pretty small room at this place in Coburg, it was fucken’ sick, it was really fun.  Tom: It was good ‘cause people, like, they obviously knew we played music, they knew this is what we did, and we had a band and stuff, but for the first time, we were able to fully set up a show, even if it was pretty much just our friends, and they were actually able to witness what we’d been working on, what we’re like as musicians when we’re playing live, and then they were like, ‘fuck, this is sick!’ Darcy: Yeah, the universal response was just like, ‘that was really sick, we weren’t expecting that’ and I’d be like, ‘yeah, this is the first time we’ve played live in five years,’ they were like ‘whoa, really!’ So, that felt really good, that was a really good response, after that show especially I was like, okay, this means that- ‘cause this was really the first time any other people were hearing the songs, all the music that’s on the EP was in that first show, so people hearing the songs were like, ‘shit, this is really good,’ since they’re reacting well, we thought, well, we’ve actually got something really good to work with and then we recorded. But, compared to the last show we played, which was here, last Saturday, it was like night and day.  Tim: Since then, we’ve done quite a few gigs, we’ve been trying to play at as many venues as we can, we’ve done a couple of cool venues, we’ve played at The Toff, Rev’s, Workers…  Darcy: Bar 303 in Northcote was awesome, that was one of the best gigs we’ve played. We’ve played all over the north side, but we always knew we wanted to do the EP launch here, ‘cause this is our local bar and most of our friends live in this area, south side.  Tim: And they’ve got a good band room in the back, but we never see it being taken advantage of.  Darcy: It took a lot of organisation from me and the other band to get it all set up - and it did get set up - and to pack up. [Tim laughs] They had to pull all the furniture out and everything.  Tim: And couldn’t get it back in [laughs].  Darcy: I won’t go into that, but… [Tim laughs again] basically, that gig compared to the first gig we ever did, it’s like, obviously, a night and day difference in the production quality and just the tightness of the band, but we played to like 60-something people, maybe, I don’t know how many people it was, but it was a completely packed room.  Tim: And there were people moshing and stuff.  Darcy: Yeah, when we played “Holiday” there was actually a pit opening up, which was mental - like, obviously our shows, our mates when they’re drunk, they’ll dance around and be idiots, but there were people in that room that we’d never seen before who were just patrons here, and like this old dude who instigated the entire pit, just pushing all our friends around, they just got mental, it was really good. And, it sounds kinda corny, but I know for me, it was kinda surreal - even though it’s a tiny room we were playing, it was packed, so it could’ve been, I don’t know if it was like 50 people or 200 people, I couldn’t have told you.  Tim: All the times we’ve spent in there playing pool and hanging out, I’d never seen that room like it was that night.  Darcy: People were standing up on the couches... so, it was surreal, and it was fucken’ a good feeling. And it was like, hopefully we can do this for a few more gigs, but we’ll see how we go. So, yeah, live shows have been sick. There’s been a couple that have been kinda average, because being a band that comes from the south side and playing at, like, the Bendigo Hotel or whatever, it’s just like - if you can get your mates to come down, you’re lucky. But yeah, it’s been good.  That gig you played here last Saturday was described as a kind of ‘unofficial school reunion’.  Darcy: Sort of, yeah. It was a special night, there was an energy in the room that night, it was pretty crazy. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced something like that before, it was a pretty crazy cool night. Hopefully we can replicate that soon, at some point. Wardens’ debut EP Fleece is out now, listen below.


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