I’ve been corresponding with Dan Newton – frontman of Brisbane band Galapogos and editor-in-chief of Heavy and Weird blog – for a month or so now. The dialogue has been refreshing and engaging. In this lengthy interview Dan talks about the ‘pure punk rock experience’, keeping ticket prices low, of having integrity, the ‘evils’ of the music industry, feminism, Riot Grrrl, spirituality, Patti Smith and more.
If you’re in Brisbane this Thursday (Feb. 7) you can see Dan in action with Galapogos at The Zoo playing with The Halls, Foxsmith and Little Planes Land. Doors 7:30pm. Tickets $10. For more details go here.
You’re a busy guy Dan—the vocalist for Brisbane band Galapogos and, the creator and editor-in-chief for site Heavy & Weird (focusing on music, politics and art). What motivates you to do all that you do?
DAN NEWTON: I like to keep busy and focused and I don’t like having my time wasted basically. So, I guess instead of interacting with life and having it wasted with pointless and fruitless pursuits I decided to go after and do things that I like doing. I love to write, whether it is music or an article for Heavy and Weird. I just love sitting down and collecting my thoughts and expressing myself. I love communication and doing my best to get better at it. Communication is at the centre of everything and as human beings when anything breaks down in any relationship it comes from a lack of communication. Playing and creating music and doing the self-diagnosed journalist thing allows me to engage in so many levels of different communications. It allows me to connect with a great many people and in the process plug into so many different points of view. I love that exchange, when active communication is connecting you to someone regardless of whether it is through debate or a mutual love of something. The fact that you are sharing ideas and communicating is positive, you are learning; all great points of view come from that kind of knowledge where you are just plugging into all the different human beings that make up this amazing ocean of chaos. So there is that, and also the fact that I want to slow time down. When you spend your time dreaming instead of doing you just see time rush by and you waste your opportunity to live. I’ve got no time or patience for that process or any sympathy for people who dream but don’t act. I’m doing what I want because I have a desire and I don’t believe in being content or satisfied with having “just enough”. I always want more from this life.
Oxygen is like a fucking drug to me, so I don’t have time for partying, boyfriends, girlfriends, marriage, kids or the freedom of Friday night. So I have a lot of time for my work and if I’m going to have so much time to do it then I better be prolific and I better be consistent and I better create at all hours. You can either waste life and waste time or you can take it by the fucking balls and keep moving forward and do what you want. My advice to anyone who complains about their position in life is to shut the fuck up and just “do” and fucking get it on. Only you will fail you if you don’t.
On your band Galapogos’ Facebook page the lone ‘Band Interests’ listed is: The pure punk rock experience. What do you mean by that? How would you define it?
DN: Punk rock for me and the rest of the band is not a sound. Certainly we all love the genre of punk rock and the whole history of it but when we talk about the ‘pure punk rock experience’ we are referring to the attitude and discipline that you need to be an individual and remain independent. It’s about being awake and aware to the world around you and using your experience with disappointment to engage in positive and forward thinking movements of change; to use compassion instead of hatred and to invest in the basic principle of choosing love over fear. It is about striving for equality and justice for those around you. Most importantly it is about using our vehicle of communication – music – to help people strive for peace, both inner and outer and to ensure that across all levels of our career that we do everything possible to tell the truth.
It isn’t about fashion or tattoos or the clichéd identity that mainstream culture plugs into when it talks about punk rock, for us it is a spiritual philosophy that requires you to open your mind to everything, even the enemy; to make sure that you are doing your best to educate yourself and the world around you. You got to make sure your message is funded by love and has that understanding of the darkness and never ever be satisfied. Always question but always remember to listen. That is the pure punk rock experience and it is an energy that has filled all the great minds of our history.
What was your first encounter with this ‘pure punk rock experience’?
DN: If you had of asked me this question in my early twenties I would of given you a whole bunch of important names like Henry Rollins, Ian McKaye, Patti Smith, Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon, Ed Vedder, Phil Anselmo and Neil Young. As a 30 year old man, I can tell you that my parents – Brian and Aileen – were my first encounter with this. You see, they may not have been influential punk rock musicians and in terms of their own taste they would much prefer listen to Roy Orbison and The Beatles than Black Flag and Fugazi, but the reason why they are so important to my philosophy is because they taught me how to be an individual and to go out into this world and combat the cruelty and to stand tall. They taught me how to avoid becoming a victim of the cruelty and to love life as opposed to fear it.
My mother is the ultimate feminist icon in my life because she is a leader and taught me the many virtues of love and compassion and how to cope with the many different levels of loss that can occur in your life. She taught me self-respect and how to be proud of whom I was and that just because I was different that didn’t mean I had to feel like a freak. She taught me how to respect the world around me and how to smile even when the bastards are trying to kick you when you’re down. She plugged me into the importance of education and reading books and engaging in active communication and to tell the truth. Her greatest lesson was that you get into more trouble if you lie and this stays with me to this day.
My father, he taught me how to sniff out the bullshit in every situation and his almost supernatural ability to be so spot on when it came to sensing if someone was full of shit or was genuine is a lesson I am glad he taught me. He taught me the power and importance of a firm handshake and that sometimes optimism has to wear heavy boots and that although by telling the truth and being honest you may not always win every single popularity contest, you will have a clean soul and sort out who belongs on the ride with you and who needs to be removed and left behind. My father also taught me how to be a gentleman and how to respect and love woman. He taught me about equality and the importance of when to say “fuck you” and how to use my mind instead of my fists. My parents are the greatest examples of human beings ever and all of those qualities that they taught me were amplified when I became fans of people like Henry Rollins, Ian McKaye, Patti Smith, Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon, Ed Vedder, Phil Anselmo and Neil Young—who to me are the musical epitome of the pure punk rock experience.
What do you feel personally when you perform? I know from our previous chats that it is a spiritual experience for you.
DN: Music is the place where I celebrate my spirituality. I think it is important to outline that music for me is not about entertainment nor is it a hobby or simple pastime. I love learning about and investigating the full history of music. I believe that in order to be a successful artist you have to plug yourself into the history of your artistic vehicle. People who don’t are just making a bunch of empty calories and it is simply tolerated vandalism and pollution; all the fevered egos and the music they make is so insignificant to my journey. Like all investments in history, you need to understand its place in the story of evolution. Know that enemy, consume it and understand how to do what you want as an artist despite it. You have to make that choice of whether you want to be a musician or an artist. Trust me there is a big difference.
In terms of performance, I like to muse on that history of music and how it has influenced me to manipulate and create my own sound. A great band is a group of people who are madly and deeply in love with each other and through this love they use the same kind of energy that is involved with great sex and together make a sound that is unique to their souls and their truth. It has to reflect all of the emotions pulsing through each individual making up that group so that the collective consciousness aka the band, can birth all of those feelings and emotions into a sound that is coming from the many different dimensions of existence. It is about channelling inner and outer space and helping give the idea of God a face and a voice to exist. God may have many different faces but she is known by one name and that is love. For me as long as love is at the centre of it then you will always arrive at a pure sound experience.
Now let me dull down internal dialogues that read the word “God” and think I am some religious freak. I am not and our music is not a celebration of religion, it is a celebration of the divine, of the shiver that we all feel. Our sound is funded by the darkness and the disappointment of life and it is incredibly emotional. These emotions come from our own experiences but also the greater experiences of the world around us.
When we play we plug into something higher because a lot of what we write and release is fully improvised. A lot of the times, in fact pretty much all of the time we don’t even remember playing it because we are all in such a trance that we just become conductors of the different spirits and dimensions surrounding us. All we do is tell the story through our imaginations and musical skill. Sometimes it is a personal story that gets told whereas other times it is the emotion and energy of whatever room we are in. It can be intense. Sometimes it may be an exercise in nonsense or humour but, the most important thing at the centre of it is the fact that we arrive at it through our collective meditation on that shiver to help a divine communication to transpire. When you see a Galapogos show you will always experience the moment as opposed to some rehearsed show.
If you look at the spiritual principles of the difference between meditation and prayer, meditation is listening to god and prayer is speaking to god. When we play live, our noise meditations are about listening to the energy of the Universe and all of its wonderful dimensions and through that delivering the other human beings experiencing that moment with us some kind of dialogue to what is happening and to hopefully open them up and wake them up and ultimately spread love.
Getting into that space before each performance requires discipline and you have to allow yourself to get both comfortable and vulnerable, which is my first instruction to any audience before we begin. In those moments before we begin I try as much as I can to be in a silent space and to plug into a degree of calm because my performance requires me to muse on all of my emotions and the many different ups and downs that have motivated me to open my mouth and sing. Prior to this, when we first arrive at the venue I like to walk around it and get a feel for the energy of the space and muse on the history of what has occurred inside of it. It’s important to engage that ambience so that you can feel what kind of mood that space is providing you. Before we all hit the stage I make sure I tell each member of the band how much I love them through either words or an action like a hug or kiss and then once we step on stage I simply close my eyes and surrender. What happens after that surrender is beyond my control. Anyone who has any inch of spiritual knowledge understands how important surrender is.
Once I get off stage I just need to get away from everyone and to be by myself and to give myself the space to come back to earth. It is exhausting but orgasmic and on a basic level, feels fucking really cool. Like I said, oxygen is my drug of choice and after those noise meditations I’ve had my fucking full hit and maximum high. In that moment I feel so connected to the world and have the most love ever pulsating through me. It’s in that moment; however brief that I glimpse inner peace and it feels fucking beautiful.
Galapogos seems to operate a little different from most bands, you guys have such a prolific output of music; can you give us a little insight into your process?
DAN NEWTON: Our commitment to being prolific is not a new idea; we see it more as an exercise in returning music to a place it originally was back in the 60s, 70s and 80s. A lot of our musical icons – people like Ornette Coleman, Black Flag, R.E.M., Black Flag, Sonic Youth, The Beatles, Neil Young and Fugazi – were incredibly active and prolific throughout their history as bands and musicians. We all loved the idea of in the 80s punk rock underground that bands would just make cassette tapes and hand them out and released so much stuff. A lot of it is out of print now but the point was they released a lot and just got it on. We took a look at the landscape around us and had a think about how we could make sure we could be equally as prolific and make sure that we gave our audience consistent movements of music. Knowing that a lot of people just don’t have the capacity to consume via cassette tapes we looked at the technology around us and decided to use the same idea of the 80s punk underground but instead of cassette tapes we are using our bandcamp page to release an EP each month. If you believe what the world at large is telling us and that people consume music a lot quicker these days and primarily through the internet than instead of ignoring the technology we decided to embrace it. Embracing it however does not mean letting the quality and intensity of our art suffer, it just means we have a space to store it for anyone and everyone to download it.
We don’t do this for a profit so by making it free it also helps us control the threat of people stealing our music. We’ve actually found that by making our music free and by releasing an EP each month we’ve actually had more people wanting to pay us for it. This is both humbling but a nice exercise in understanding that yes people want stuff for free but if you as the artist control that and if you release music that is quality people will develop a connection to it and from here they will believe in you and feel a part of it and want to follow you for the long term and in the end potentially want to pay for it. Like Fugazi though, when our music is released physically we also believe in making sure that you only pay between $5 to $10 or even less for it. By ignoring the redundant business models of the music industry we have been able to connect deeper with our audience and find ways to keep costs down for us and our fans. It’s all a tribute to Fugazi and we prefer all our shows to be no higher than $10 and where possible free.
This is purely about doing it ourselves and treating the audience as human beings, not as consumers. I think modern bands, Triple J and music industry assholes have forgotten how to do that. All they do is talk about marketing and target markets and instead of seeing the audience as intelligent human beings they market to them as purely consumers. We don’t believe or participate in that nonsense because that is all about fear. You have to remember that these big music industry assholes and Triple J people and modern bands who develop marketing plans and all that trash are fully functioning adults and have no respect for the intelligence of the public. I see them as to blame for the shift in what is played and exposed. If they put all that time and energy into giving all the bands across all the genres that same exposure and actually treat the public with respect you’d see a fucking revolution. All those people who participate in that, they can do that and they’ll make a lot of money but that’s about all they will make. Galapogos will do our work despite that and continue to educate those who are willing to listen just how important it is to treat your audience with respect and to connect with them on an emotional level. We don’t need our audience’s money; we just want their love and respect. We remain committed to being independent and doing what we want. Anything or anyone that spooks the muse has no place in the way we conduct our business or art.
Moving forward, we plan to launch our own record label “Noise Nonsense Records” and just like Dischord, we want to tell the accurate history of our town. We are in the middle of recording our second full length album and have just finished recording three EPs that will be released over the next three months. I think by March this year our discography will contain 1 full length album (available both physically and digitally) and 20 Eps (all available digitally). Our second album will be released on vinyl only with some limited CD prints. In 2014 we’ll also be compiling our first anthology to curate and collect our first 3 years as a band which will be the first time a lot of the music on those digital EPs will be available physically.
You can distract yourself with a business plan or just fucking get it on and do what you want but remembering that doing it yourself is not a boutique or easy thing, it still requires hard work and you really do it for the sake of your art, not a profit. Seeing what you do influence people is more powerful and rewarding than a swollen bank account. We’ll all die with satisfied minds and clean souls.
What do you love most about your band?
DN: Todd French, Benjiban Bohn, Luke Koster and Jerram Gabriel. I love them more than I can put into words. They are the most talented and creative human beings ever. They are beautiful human beings who are masters of their instruments because of their extreme emotional intelligence. I love that we can just plug in, get it on and make noise that is our own…I love that together we remain committed to fighting the injustice of the music industry and to help spread truth and love. They are my best friends, my family and the loves of my life. It is as simple as that and that to me is how a great band is meant to exist, as one. No leaders, no egos – just love and respect.
Which Galapogos song means the most to you?
There are so many, but without a doubt it would have to be “Parakeet Parachute”. That song is the anthem for everything I believe in and the whole thing is improvised. I don’t know what energy we were plugged into that day but something special happened and the proof is in the pudding. Without giving too much away about our second album, I can safely say this song will be on it. We tried to re-record it but it just didn’t capture the special energy of the original recording, so it will be on the album as it was recorded on that day when we improvised it. This is a lesson to all the young folk out there that sometimes it pays to just shake the dust of the demo and clean it up for the real thing because re-recording it will only spook the original divine purpose of its communication. Music needs to have all of its imperfections kept in place in order for it to be consumed honestly. Neil Young taught me that.
It is also the best song to play live; a lot of special things happen when we engage that song live.
As independent band what do you feel is one of the greatest challenges facing you and what are you doing to rise to meet that challenge?
DN: We don’t have many challenges as an independent band. We don’t rely on our music as income so we all work day jobs that respect that we are artists. So we are able to get financial freedom through those day jobs and as a result have the ability to fund what we do. We have our own recording studio “Amber Sound” that was set up and established by our guitarist Luke. That was a ten year investment from him so we don’t have any recording costs. We have an audience who respect us for what we do and who we do our best to serve, so we don’t face any restrictions on what we can and can’t do. They love that we do what we want, so we never have to compromise our art. We have the support of all the independent radio stations across Australia so we don’t have to worry about radio play or support. We have the respect of venues across Brisbane who know who we are and that we are incredibly professional and believe in making sure both the venue and audience are satisfied with the end result of our gigs. We have the internet which allows us to connect with the world and through this we have had our music travel into different countries and to many different ears. We have the respect of our musical peers.
Our next challenge is engaging the other parts of Australia to make sure we can play shows and spread our love and sound. Not really a challenge but something on our agenda for 2013 and beyond. Our biggest challenge as a band is the mediocrity of the fevered egos that exist in the music industry and making sure that their evils don’t pollute our souls and bum us out. We are after all only human and being human means that we sometimes have moments of weakness where the fevered egos pollute our light. This is easily fixed and as we grow as people we find better ways of dealing with this.
You have such a wide, varied taste in music. Tell us about your connection to, and love of Riot Grrrl.
DN: Riot Grrrl is at the centre of my beating heart. I see Galapogos as a Riot Grrrl band and in the spirit of what these bands did for the history of music.
As a male, my connection to Riot Grrrl music occurred because I could not stand or tolerate the male ego that exists in the rock band landscape. All of those Marshall stack assholes that are all about using the guitar as an extension of their cock and the way their music is about beer and lifestyle instead of something important. For my whole life I’ve felt fairly alienated from modern male culture and the definition of what being a man is. Add into this the amount of male musicians who use their band and music as a vehicle for “getting laid” and that whole groupie mentality. Fuck, it is just plain evil to me and such a redundant part of what being creative is all about.
When I discovered the sounds of Riot Grrrl it just flawed me. It connected with me deeply and changed my whole perspective on what musical expression could be. It was raw and about equality and it plugged me into feminist culture and that is something that I care deeply about to this day. All of my influences as a musician are female and they extend beyond just the riot Grrrl scene. It all started with my mother and her love of Carole King. Carole King was the first time I heard that roar and Tapestry is a Riot Grrrl classic if you ask me, essential to the history of the roar. I know a lot of people talk about Bikini Kill who is important to the history but, for me my favourite Grrrl band was Heavens to Betsy. This was Corin Tucker’s first band and they were a two piece that only ever released one album that was called “Calculated”. It is in my top eleven albums of all time for sure, just a vital piece of art. It is so incredibly raw and just flat out rocks. Corin remains one of my heroes in life and I still believe that Sleater-Kinney is the greatest rock n roll band ever.
Part of my fight and mission is to make sure that we have gender equality in this world, especially in the music industry, which is where I do the bulk of my work. Don’t let modern culture fool you, we still have a long way to go before we reach the kind of equality that not only I desire but the other female musicians I call friends desire. For me, this kind of equality starts with the small and simple things, like the way we report and communicate about female musicians in the media. I never refer to a band as an all-female band when I report about them in my blog because quite simply this does nothing more than feed the problem. We don’t refer to all male bands in this same manner so why does music made by females need to have this illustrated when it’s being discussed. It carries this passive aggressive tone that says “their pretty good considering they are girls”. I fucking hate that kind of backhanded compliment bullshit. I mean at the end of the day this also comes down to the music industry and the way it markets female musicians and how in the 90s Girl Power become this monopolised thing which can be seen in what the Spice Girls did. I still debate if this was a positive or negative thing because it still promoted that whole idea of “you are free to do what we tell you to do” and funded negative body image. It was also another example of the music industry taking something as pure as the roar inside the Riot Grrrl movement and manufacturing it on a mass level and then society patting them on the back for doing something positive for gender equality. That to me is a fucking joke because it actually took us further away from gender equality.
To see a lot of Riot Grrrl bands birthing in the modern Brisbane scene is a positive thing but I hope that instead of just ripping off all of the amazing musicians from this scene that these bands do their best to evolve what the original Grrrls did and to make sure they don’t just use it as a marketing tool. I am so excited by the music of bands like The Boys and Foxsmith and I think these are the bands that should be playing on Triple J. Everyone in those bands are positive role models for young woman. I may be biased but I think that Bec Wolfers is the future of Riot Grrrl in Brisbane and I think her shiver pop band The Halls will be purveyors of the new roar in this new decade. Bec is an amazing explosion of light and the role model that modern woman need to worship. She is doing so much for gender equality with both her music and her writing.
At the end of the day, I just want to be Patti Smith and Kim Gordon. They are my musical heroes and they have taught me how be the best artist I can be. Patti taught me how to be a poet and Kim taught me how to sing and play guitar. I love them both deeply. I think M.I.A. is the future of Riot Grrrl in terms of mainstream culture. I love her music and message so much. She is my new musical hero.
I’ve been enjoying your writing at Heavy & Weird; you’re a very passionate writer. Are there ever times when you’re writing that you ever censor yourself? Why do/don’t you?
DN: No, I don’t believe in censorship at all and Heavy and Weird is about making sure that all points of view are represented. Our job as a blog is to make sure we tell the truth and each blog comes from many different well researched truths. It is about reporting about the music, politics and art we love across all genres. It adopts the same ethos as Galapogos – we don’t treat our audience and readers as consumers. We respect them as intelligent human beings and understand that everything we write may not resonate with their point of view but at the end of the day we don’t care about that or if it offends. Being offended does not give anyone the moral high ground; it holds no weight in the grand scheme of things. Telling someone you’re offended does nothing in terms of adding or subtracting from the argument or point of view being discussed. We believe in the art of healthy debate and if our readers want to challenge a point of view, we welcome that. As long as communication is happening as a result then we are doing our job.
The only time I’ve removed a blog, and there has only been one, is because I don’t think I did my job of communicating my point of view in a balanced way. I removed it to make sure I could re-write it and give the argument the respect it deserved. We have so many talented writers on our staff and I just love publishing all of the different thoughts and opinions. The staff roster is growing and I love giving everyone on my staff the freedom to write what they want. I have Bill Hicks to thank for my commitment to telling the news from all points of view.
For those that aren’t familiar with Heavy & Weird, what three features would you recommend they read?
DN: 1) This is an article I wrote in a three part series about the Music industry.
2) This is an article by Jas Swilks about how pornography is now being labelled as the new “post-feminist” choice.
3) This is an article by Bec Wolfers about integrating music and spirituality.
What are your thoughts on the current state of music writing and journalism?
DN: Too many fevered egos. The only music journalism that I read religiously is the amazing stuff that you do and the amazing work that Everett True does with Collapse Board. That is front and centre the inspiration for what I do with Heavy and Weird. I love Everett True’s writing and respect him a great deal. I don’t always agree with what he says but I always respect it. I love the way he engages the music community with his point of view and the way he truly is a music critic. He doesn’t play to the fevered egos, he rebels against them. I’ve discovered a lot of great music through his team of writers on Collapse Board and if popular music culture needs a villain he is the perfect one to cast. I don’t see him as a villain though, I see him as a purveyor of truth and like anyone who tells the truth it doesn’t always allow people to feel comfortable. Ian [Rogers] from No Anchor also writes an amazing blog [The Occasional Musician] that I love to read, he is a fucking god amongst men and a totally badass musician. I’ll always have time for local street press writers like Darragh Murray, Dan Condon and Denis Semchenko who write beautifully.
All the rest of it is just hype driven trash, designed to preach to the converted and is full of misinformation. It is written by people who have no respect for the history of music and in no way does it represent the full scope of music being made in this world. More to the point it is influenced by how much ego rubbing the publicity companies will provide. Fuck that, such an exercise in fiction. Our job as writers is to report the truth and regardless of whether I like something sent to me or not, I’ll do my best to write about it in a way that accurately sums up my emotional interaction with it.
I think the blog culture has become the new fanzine scene if you ask me. That is all I wanted to do with Heavy and Weird, create a fanzine that is run by a passion and love for music, politics and art. That is the future of where you’ll find positive and engaging music journalism I reckon. In the words of Kurt Cobain: corporate magazines still suck.
Whose record have you listened to most lately? What about it has inspired so much play?
DN: Patti Smith’s new album “Banga” has recently found its way back into my life. I played it to death when it was released last year. I love it so much. I think I found my way back to it because I just love her music very deeply. I love her poetry and her version of rock n roll. I love how she has aged gracefully and still has something important to say. She is still everything punk rock should be and when I think about who invented Punk Rock, I am always going to say Patti Smith. It is a beautiful record full of new millennium punk rock poetry. Patti Smith has this energy attached to her music that is full of the same unconditional love that I felt from my Nana Gloria and still feel from my mum Alieen. It is just a beautiful pair of warm slippers and the kind of hug you need when you are in a bummer state of mind. Patti Smith should be a subject taught in all high schools across the world, she is that important to our history.
*Photo credits – 1) Thomas Oliver; 2 + 4) Mel Baxter from Moonshine Madness; 3) art by Benjiban Bohn 5) art by Carrie Marshall and Benjiban Bohn; above pic by Mischa Freeman of personal letter including gig tickets sent out to fans by Dan for The Zoo show. Photos courtesy of Galapogos’ fb. If you see your work and you want it taken down let me know.