If bands like Eddy Current Suppression Ring, The UV Race and Twerps have collectively proved anything, it's that Americans love a good helping of candid, Aussie garage rock. Various installments at different American music festivals, coupled with releases on renowned international labels like Goner and Iron Lung, records have seen the proliferation of these Aussie bands in the thriving American garage music community. Partly comprised of members of two of the aforementioned acts, Melbourne synth-punks Total Control are currently on the road in the States, supporting San-Fransiscan psych-rockers Thee Oh Sees - and bass player, Zephyr Pavey, sounds pretty enthusiastic about their American return.
"It's been going great, it's just been such an easy tour," Pavey says. "Thee Oh Sees have such a great following. They're just the best people to be touring with - such experienced road warriors." And the band's sets have been going down well, too. "I met a guy in Houston the other night whose five favourite bands at the moment were all from Melbourne and Brisbane. The reception's just been great so far. At some of Thee Oh Sees shows I suppose people might not know who we are, but I guess it's a nice surprise for them." Zephyr attributes a lot of the band's international following to the different state of mind they bring to the shows. "Maybe we're some sort of exotic novelty," he says through a chuckle. "A lot of Australian bands have almost a holiday mentality when coming here - everyone's in such a good mood that it really comes through in the shows."
A spawn of Australia's burgeoning garage scene, Total Control was the brainchild of UV Race drummer Dan Steward and Eddy Current Suppression Ring guitarist/producer Mikey Young. The foundations are thus established: Total Control are upfront, jarring, explosive and hypnotic, infusing their music with elements of synthesised and primitive electronica. But the results are of a far more desolate and sequestering flavour when compared to the joviality of Eddy Current or UV Race. Since the release of their first string of 7-inches, the band have had an abundance of labels slapped on them - synth-punk, coldwave, krautrock - just about any genre that pertains to the late 1970s. With a sound unique to any of their previous projects, I'm curious how it came about. "The early thing was just Mikey and Dan, or Mikey, Dan and James - they never really rehearsed that much. They'd just get together and stuff around, really," Zephyr tells me. "After a while, I guess they thought they should try it with a full band, so they got me and Al to fill in on bass and second guitar."
The true brilliance of Total Control shines through in the astute balance that they strike between a jolting, garage-punk aesthetic and delicate, synthesised melodies; what's immediately striking about Total Control's debut full-length record Henge Beat is its emphatic use of electronic artifacts. Through this, the quintet effectively adds a new dimension to a local garage scene that prides itself on generic prowess and simplicity. I ask how the band's approach to Henge Beat differed from the releases of the members' other outfits. "I guess having Mikey in the band, who recorded a lot of it, made for a pretty relaxed approach," Pavey says. "It actually took quite a while to record - there'd be drums and bass one day, and then three weeks later, we'd get together and make an electronic song." This was a stark change for the boys, who are generally used to recording albums over a very short period of time. "With UV and Eddy Current, they've only really got three days to measure it out and record it all," Zephyr explains. "This thing was more like recording one song in my apartment, and then spending a day on it - it was a really comfortable recording process. The songs themselves were a mix of stuff we'd been working on and playing live."
Although the initial ideas hatched from either Mikey or Al, Total Control's songwriting process is a collaborative one, with every member offering a contribution to the final product. "The songs generally start either as obnoxious guitar riffs or blessed-out synth recordings", says Pavey. "But generally, [they] end up somewhere else once we've played them out." Speaking of the driving forces behind Henge Beat, Pavey again mentions the band's considered approach; Total Control were never held to any particular genre or formula. "On our last US tour, we really sent ourselves broke with excess luggage of records that we bought over here," says Zephyr. "I don't think there was any particular single thing that anyone was listening to at the time. I guess having that much time to record gives it that sense of diversity… It is certainly a very considered LP, but it also came together with relative ease and with utter ignorance of what cold wave or nu punk are."
Having each member of the group belong to different bands, I ask Zephyr whether Total Control is seen as a focal point or more of a side project. "It was probably to the side of things when Eddy Current and the UV Race were doing a lot. But now that they're not, it's definitely a focus of ours. And after the last US tour, we realised, 'This goes pretty well. We should probably keep doing it.'"
BY GREG CLENNAR
Total Control play St. Jerome's Laneway Festival at Footscray Community Arts Centre on Saturday February 4, 2012. Henge Beat is out now through Fuse.