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Badlands: Royal Headache talk music and Sydney going to shit

We spent some time with the darlings of punk faithfuls home and abroad

Posted by Vincent Dwyer

It’s a frosty Saturday night and Royal Headache are gearing up for another sold out show. The band’s lead singer-songwriter, Tim “Shogun” Wall is feeling second-hand, though you wouldn’t guess it at first glance. This magnetic front man is the overseer of a band which—since the turn of the decade—has been Australia’s foremost punk outfit. Spearheaded by the duo of Shogun and lead guitarist, Lawrence “Law” Hall, Royal Headache has pummelled its way into the underground with music so gut-punching and irresistibly catchy it’s little wonder they’re the darlings of punk faithfuls home and abroad. I sat down with Shogun to mull over the band’s current incarnation, progress on the new album and what the fuck is happening in Sydney right now.

Vince: First of all, great show last night.

Tom: Last night was cool. We’re playing longer sets now. We’re including slower songs and filling out more of the set, trying to make it a bit more of a rock opera. It’s nice to finally evolve rather than being stuck in the same fucking gear for the past eight or nine years.

When you say, ‘Sydney’s been shit’, were you referring to your cold or the city in general?

It’s no secret why people in Sydney are treating each other like shit. It’s because no one knows where the next rent cheque is coming from. No one knows whether they’re getting a shift or not to pay for it. It starts to intrude on people’s behaviour. Sadly, there’s even an anxiety that enters the punk and bohemian crowd.

Has this been a recent thing you’ve noticed?

I feel like it happened in Sydney quicker than anywhere else. It was very abrupt and very sudden. The city changed overnight. It looked different, it smelt different, it felt different.

Has it been fucking with musicians? I can imagine the lockout laws wouldn’t help.

People are being innovative and finding new places to play, like bowling clubs and other less-conventional venues. All I’ve really noticed is there’s people worrying about money and those people are going to take on a certain mentality. Self-interested qualities will follow far too easily.

Has Royal Headache’s music ever been reflective of Sydney life or is it separate to a geographic context?

I think it is reflective of Sydney, but maybe not as much as it used to be. Now, I feel like we’re probably appreciated a bit more abroad or even in Melbourne.

You packed out The Corner last night, so you’re doing something right.

For a band that hasn’t released anything in two years, I was happy with that. To me, Sydney is a memory. I don’t even recognise today’s Sydney. But our music is bittersweet. It reminds me of a Sydney when my friends still lived there and when shit was kind of cool.

The new stuff I heard last night was such a huge step forward and was so different from your earlier work.

We’ve been trying to do stuff like that for ages but there were squabbles and difficulties with musicianship. I want Royal Headache to be less pigeonholed and less cornered by genre. A rock ‘n roll band shouldn’t be this one thing. I feel like that started happening about fifteen years ago with this ‘hipster curse’ where every indie band felt like they had to play the same song for the entire set.

It seems like something most Melbourne and Sydney bands are still figuring out.

Totally. Punk music in its inception was a rupturing and a frustration with the limits of genre. Of course, it became classed within those chains very quickly. Maybe the stuff we’re doing now is more mod-influenced, or more 60’s and soul-influenced and we’re enjoying that. I’ve been waiting a long time to make this band the way I want it to be so I’m quite happy.

Any progress on the new album?

The new album’s been written for at least a year, but I’m still trying to add stuff to it. We’re gonna start recording it when we get back from the States. I’m really excited about it. I feel like it’s gonna be the best one yet.

Is there a more positive vibe in the band with this album?

Absolutely. All I’ve wanted to do was write tunes, sing them, produce them, mix them and do overdubs. That’s all stuff I like. I’ve learnt not to go into detail, but all the personal bullshit and the fucked up, really twisted stuff you see in people when you play in a rock ‘n roll band, it’s a real cosmic rogering. I just try and put it behind me. just want to have my time to make a couple of records that I dig; to be creative and not be interrupted by the shitstorm.

Are the new songs—lyrically and musically—coming from an inner place of creativity or were they influenced by that same ‘shitstorm’?

It does have to be personal and it’s gotta be real. I can’t just sing about nothing, otherwise I won’t have the energy to bark it out. You’ve got to have a feeling about something to want to push it upon 300, 800, 4000 people. You’ve gotta believe in it.

Has the agency over Royal Headache changed since getting together? Does the band feel more in control of its creative output?

I think the musician-ship’s better.

No labels whispering in your ear?

We’ve always had labels in our ears. But it comes and goes. That’s rock ‘n roll. Everyone’s on your nuts one week and then they’re running away, screaming from you the next. Sometimes it’s hard to figure out who your real friends are. But you get used to it.

Is Royal Headache still a Sydney band?

You know, that’s a good question that maybe we should ask ourselves. We did have an opportunity a few years ago to relocate to The States, which probably would’ve been great. But as per usual we slept on it and we didn’t do anything about it. But I would love to split. Do a Melbourne or live somewhere like LA. A place like LA you can tour the States all year and make a living. Who knows, it could really be on the cards.

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