Great Australian Bank discuss new EP 'Water Tank' and the lost truth of mateship
On the promise to make Australiana great again, Naarm-based Great Australian Bank has dropped their second EP, Water Tank. Inspired by post-punk and classic Australian music of the 80s, Water Tank hits a warm, almost nostalgic spot musically, while embracing an intrinsically unique and angular sound. Lyrically, it criticises the hypocrisy of Australian nationalism and the issues that beset our history; one that is supposedly entrenched with the cardinal notion of “mate-ship”. In anticipation of their EP launch on the 8th of July at Nighthawks, we congregated around the ol’ water tank to have a chat with the band about their exciting new release.
Comprised of members Tass Coomber (main vocals, guitar), Patrick Fielding (guitar), Oliver Maiolo (bass) and Alex Raw (drums), their sophomore release was recorded in February over roughly a 3-day period, with Rohan Sforcina at Head Gap Studios helping to steer the ship. The new release took a holistic approach when it came to recording, aiming to encapsulate something more authentic, a sound more attested to that of their live performances. When chatting about the recording process, Tass mentioned “The first EP was recorded on a bit more of a shoestring budget, with instruments recorded in isolation and then mixed together. It sounded cohesive, but it was pretty DIY. We wanted to like sound like it’s a real feeling… That live element is pretty prominent in the second release, and that’s a big part of why we are happier with it.”
With the goal of undertaking a more authentic sound, each track was recorded live with final touches and embellishments added over the top of the recordings. They were lucky to find Rohan, who helped them with their vision, praising Rohan for his enthusiasm when it came to the recording and his support throughout the whole process. “[He] was really accommodating for what we wanted to do, really took all the things that we were saying, what we wanted to sound like, the different sort of influences that we had and was super supportive of that.” Mentioned Oliver. Alex added to this, “He did a really good job of making it lively and exciting… It’s bizarre to work with an engineer that’s like that, someone who was perfectly present. It just made it all pretty effortless and organic.”
This more authentic sound goes hand in hand with the topics that GAB's touch on, elevating the overall theme of EP and their music in general. Lyrically, they don’t shy away from criticising Australian nationalism, as well as the racism and classism that is inculcated into the core of most of our political policy. When chatting around the overall theme, Tass states that “It’s taking the piss out of white Australian pride, and everything that’s sort of bound up with things like ANZAC pride and celebrating the military; also, the unconditional love for things like mining and capitalistic sort of activities that are bound up with the nationalised Australian identity. That theme always goes into, I supposed, the lyrical content. For me, it’s always on my mind personally and something that is a bit of a lived experience and was a focus of my studies.” Adding to this, Oliver mentions “You can see it the other way as well. Where I grew up in Cairns, which is quite multicultural. it has a very high population of Indigenous Australians and it’s awesome. That’s what I am used to. Then you come down here to Melbourne City and everything is a little bit different. They have this thought that we are a multicultural society and it’s all about ‘mate-ship’, but they don’t really remember what that means. We are taught in school about the ANZACs and mateship, give everyone a fair go, protect the environment and keep our country beautiful and all of that. Then you grow up and don’t practice any of those things.”
Tracks such as Brumby and Boys Dug In really drive home these themes. Brumby as a track is about the dichotomy of political policy surrounding conservation efforts in Australia. As a country, we have one of the only policies in the world that protect an introduced and invasive species, one that is detrimental to our ecosystem. This is because to most Australians, the Brumby has a cultural significance, mostly due to Banjo Paterson. “There is a lot of dialogue in that space along the lines of needing to protect brumbies as they have culture and significance within Australian heritage, but honestly, they don’t really. They have a white Australian heritage. You are picking and choosing what should and shouldn’t be considered conservation…” Oliver adds, “We want to keep them alive as some investment to a romantic Australian ideal.”
Continuing on these themes, Boys Dug In takes a critical look at the glorification of the ANZAC legend and the undeniable fact that at its core, goes hand in hand with the past history of racism against Indigenous Australians and immigrants. “When WWI is taught in school, we outline the white diggers and the white experience in the trenches. There is almost no discussion or reflection on the multi-culturalism within the war. There were Aboriginal soldiers, Indo-Chinese as well, who went along and fought with white diggers. They had the same lived-in experience in the trenches, then leaving the war, all those experiences and all those stories were then made invisible, or they are far less common to hear about, let alone taught about.“ When writing the lyrics, Tass drew on the experiences of Mick Flick, an Aboriginal digger who actively enlisted in the Australian military in World War I, who upon returning to his hometown after the war was not acknowledged for his efforts as a soldier, being denied membership to his local RSL and Soldier Settlement block that was given to veterans when they returned from the war. “You would have a diverse array of stories showcasing all of the people and their different cultures that fought in the war, not just the white ones. Maybe if we had recognised the true ideology of what we were preaching [initially], we wouldn’t have had all this policy during the 20th century that caused massive inter-generational trauma.” Alex stated at one point during the interview “we want to tell people’s stories”, and Boys Dug In does this in both an abrasive and beautiful way.
Water Tank and Salamanca, despite being the more upbeat tracks off the EP, draw upon sombre themes of stagnation in life and criticism of community expectation. Water Tank, although a track the band declared initially as a “track that doesn’t mean much about anything”, really dives into the society’s forced momentum of annual expectation, the idea of taking everything “year by year”. It criticises the arbitrary structure of time set intrinsically by our society’s capitalistic needs and expectations; you know, the “new year, new me” bullshit, along with the forced idea that every year needs to be better than the last. Touching on this track, Patrick mentions “People’s idea of change is very glorified; whether that actually happens is questionable”, with Alex adding “You expect there to be a sizable change in your life but in the end, it doesn’t shift all that much. You expect there to be drastic change when you hit those points.”
Salamanca, is a reflection of drinking culture, especially in smaller communities, criticising the violent nature at the crux of it all, usually perpetrated by toxic masculinity. I found it the catchiest track off the EP, with its upbeat, fervant drum lines and glittery guitar melodies, so the juxtaposition of the lyrics makes it an enticing track to listen to. Salamanca is a waterfront strip in Hobart (where Tass, Patrick and Alex all grew up before moving to Melbourne) that is made up of bars and clubs. “It’s the only place you have to get on the piss in Hobart. So everyone goes in and you have this cesspool of emphasised violence and anti-social behaviour. I wanted to focus on the problem with these fucked displays of violence and hyper-masculinity… There is almost a sense of urgency, especially for young people, to sort of demonstrate themselves. You get drunk with friends and almost your whole logic just goes out the window.
Overall, Water Tank is a pleasure to listen to, with catchy melodies and a warm familiarity to it. It was released on the 10th of June and will be officially launched on the 9th of July at Nighthawks Bar ($15 cash on the door). After working incredibly hard on this EP, this will be a joy to an absolute hear live.