Bird Facts and Ballads: What Makes Up the Soul of Skink Tank
With the strength of the sun they sing about, Skink Tank radiate Australiana’s most positive peculiarities. Bound by a fondness for nature and, more specifically lizards, the Preston/ Coburg trio craft catchy, jangle-punk ballads full of hooks and heart. In dealing with adversities adjusting to adulthood, they do so with a warm inclusivity that mirrors the intimacy of a bonfire D&M, surrounded by mates new and old. Delivered alongside animal facts during tuning breaks, often of the bird variety, their understated anthems cast cathartic emotional kaleidoscopes that continue to hit hard 8-months on from their debut, self-titled EP. From the back seat of the Tank, we chatted with Maggins (bass, vox), Rick (guitar, vox) and Allison (drums) about the beloved band.
Friends prior to the project, Rick’s musical noodling’s catalysed the formation of the band that would fully realise these ideas; “There were just things I would think about in my head on a loop and figuring them out with Maggins and Allison helped refine things down. They’re two people who really understand music and because we’re very emotionally connected friends, there was a lot of understanding that just make it work”. Whilst it would serve as Allison’s maiden band experience, the understanding of expression between friends helped cement a seamless start; “It felt like everything we were doing was the most natural thing to be doing. We have really different strengths and very particular areas of interest, so everyone meshes together really well”.
Further underpinned by a musical trust between members, Skink Tank soon flourished into a highly collaborative ensemble; “Now we’ve been playing together a bit more we’ve been able to make songs together as a group. It’s a really good thing to be able to put our heads together from the start”. Harnessing the spontaneity of sessions, songs often arrive as organically as the trio formed; “We’re not having these long, head scratching sessions in the studio stressing about things. Sometimes we’ll just get that flow going and suddenly the song’s almost done”. It’s all streamlined by way of “a democratically elected tyrant for each song. They’ll tell everyone what to do and it’s nice when someone else has an idea and you can see where you can slot into it”.
Harnessing their background in poetry, Maggins’ strikes an arresting lyrical balance between sincerity and relatability. On tracks like, ‘At The Door’, managing to poignantly phrase what it means to maintain a sense-of-self in the face of an oppressor required an expressive re-tooling to fit a new medium; “Sometimes it’s hard to marry playing in a punk band with saying something that might not be too fun. Saying something a little uncomfortable but with a real trashy delivery of it. Early rock ‘n’ roll stole a lot of influence from Black folk in America playing blues music. There’s some serious, real as fuck sorrow in that music and I think those blues artists showed us a way that those things can coexist”.
Alternatively, tracks like ‘Melbourne Water’ aim to capture a feeling within a time and place. Rooted in positivity with hints of suburban sunshine cascading over a natural landscape, Skink Tank provide the colours for listeners to paint with; “You can say a little and mean a lot. I think it's just about trying to not overstate something that people can understand in their own way while also being a fun rock band”. As Allison adds, “You’re both very much pragmatists when doing lyrical content. It's descriptive but there’s no emotional language tied to it. It’s just the description and then the music and the associations each individual has to fill in the blanks”.
Recorded at “Roseneath”, a disused farming house in the regional Victorian town of Goldie, the setting couldn’t have been sweeter to capture the soaring harmonies and crisp jangle of guitars of their debut 2020 EP; “We were in this large lounge room that had this space and resonance that suited the music so well. There was this dining room behind it that had corrugated iron instead of windows that acted as this reverb chamber right next to where we were playing. You couldn’t ask for a better DIY environment”. As much as the space contributed sonically, it added adversities that reinforced the EP’s overarching theme; “We had to work with the weather at times. It wasn’t some sort of cosy Electric Ladyland studio. We were bracing against the cold and really connecting to the place because we were subject to the conditions. It suited the vibe of the music revolving around being subject to the conditions of life on earth”.
Anyone who’s had the pleasure of seeing Skink Tank will appreciate the time allotted to tuning between songs; “If we have a 30-minute set, there’s 10 minutes of songs and 20 minutes of tunings (laughs)”. Luminous chord voicings provided by Rick’s array of alternate tunings shine vitally on tracks like, ‘The Day After New Year’s Day’. Initially used as a shortcut, it’s created a style that’s idiosyncratic to their sound; “I just found that instead of honing any kind of guitar technique I could just change the tuning and then not actually have to put in more effort to learn about music. It helps you just get these really poignant chords and dissonant sounds that opens up new musically emotional doorways”.
From behind the kit, Allison assuages the radio-silence during these breaks by providing animal factoids to an audience that’s all ears; “There’s so much time in between tuning which would get tiring for us to come up with things to say every single show. I really like birds, so I just like to talk at brick walls about birds. I have all these books so it’s good motivation to read more about the thing I love so I can tell people about it on stage”. This fan-favourite ritual, more than anything, reflects values true and tight to the band; “I go to lectures, I watch docos, I go to talks about the environment, I go to gigs. So why not incorporate a fusion of things?”.
While lockdown has slowed the Tank somewhat, fans will be happy to hear that LARPing is alive and well between housemates Allison and Maggins. The band itself, however, remains the primary source of serenity and stability; “I do feel really well when we’re making music together. The combination of playfulness, creativeness and the ability to just fuck around whilst also having to hone a craft is a recipe for feeling good”. Allison echoes, “It’s such a good respite from audio and compositional things, playing in this kind of setting where its light-hearted and there isn’t this air of pressure. It’s really important to engage with music this way when it's easy to get wrapped up in pressurised and almost corporate attitudes. I really relish the time playing with my lovely, lovely friends”.
Through their understated anthems that remind us it’s ok to not feel ok, Skink Tank manages to muster a room of strangers into a unified collective. Processing pain and positivity over the course of a cathartic set, the experience is one that forever feels shared; “There’s an interaction and a relationship that goes on with playing, watching, listening to music. It feels good to be able to contribute something to the world that brings people together and try to create an environment where I feel like anyone who comes to one of our gigs is our mate now. Were just hangin’ out, havin’ fun together”.
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