Interview with Alex Gillies of No Anchor
By Darragh Murray
I interviewed Alex Gillies, drummer for Brisbane group No Anchor ahead of the 17 March 2012 launch of the group’s seven inch EP, ‘Rope/Pussyfootin’. The interview was actually done for a radio program I host on Brisbane community radio station 4ZZZ – Exit Stage Zed. We talked for about half-an-hour, but obviously the constraints of radio meant I couldn’t play the entire interview on air, hence its appearance here.
In addition to being No Anchor’s drummer, Alex is also an occasional Collapse Board contributor (check out his great essay documenting his relationship with the music of Nirvana) as well as visual artist, known for his woodcuts, some of which have appeared on No Anchor’s releases (for example, their last full length record, the double LP Real Pain Supernova).
I’m still slightly confused about the title of the EP. At the time of the interview, I thought it was called ‘Pussyfootin’, then after, I took it to be ‘Rope/Pussyfootin’, but a post on the No Anchor website suggests it might be self-titled. Whatever it’s called, it’s fucking great and you should listen to it as soon as you can. Limited vinyl copies will shortly be available online. However, if you happen to be reading this and it is 17 March, and you’re in Brisbane, you can see them launch it in person at Woodland, where you can pick up the vinyl editions.
Hi Alex, thank you for sparing some time to talk to me. How are you today?
ALEX GILLIES: I’m doing very well, thank you for having me on your show and I think thank you for describing my band as a doom band.
Actually, I’ve got a question about that later on, but I’ve got them here in a nice neat order. But I might just start with my first question about your follow up release to Real Pain Supernova. This time you’ve gone with the four track EP called ‘Pussyfootin’.
AG: Well, there is something to be said for really deciding as an independent band, especially an independent band in Australia, to do a double LP album. It seemed like a good idea at the time, and thankfully this time it was still a good idea but it’s a lot of music to put out – a lot of music to give to people. And that had a lot to do with the fact that we wrote and challenged ourselves with some longer songs.
I guess in No Anchor the pendulum always swings from one extreme to the other. We spend six months playing 10 to 15 minutes songs and then can think of nothing better than to play a one to two-minute song – ‘cause you can play a one-minute song 10 times and that’s OK, you try playing a 15-minute song 10 times and you’ve kind of had a gutful by that stage. So shorter songs lends itself to the format of the seven-inch, which we all absolutely adore.
You’re launching this EP at Woodland. Are you guys not tempted to try beat you seven-night marathon from last year and go for eight straight gigs?
AG: I think we might come out and play for seven minutes (laughs). Nah, the seven-night experience last year was possibility the most fun you could have ever have in a band. I can only imagine that’s what the huge successful bands of this world get the opportunity to do – to play that regularly. It was a great lot of fun, but we’ll put that on the list of things you must do before you die but possibly do only once.
I know the response to the seven nights of No Anchor last year was incredibly positive. I managed to get to two of the nights and was blown away, not only by you guys, but also by the quality of support acts that you guys got involved with the event. Would it be something you would do again, or was it a once off?
AG: To be quite honest, I would never say never to do it again. I doubt it’s going to be our annual event or anything premeditated. If the opportunity arose, if we had the impetus to do so, we might do something of that nature. I have a feeling though, in No Anchor it’s not going to be that hard for us to dream up something equally as absurd but completely different to do. There is no shortage of crazy ideas in our band. And for that reason, we’d probably go, “Yeah seven nights is alright but now we going to better it and do something … else”.
I can only imagine how you could beat that – play for 48 hours straight or something like that.
AG: We’ll take your proposal and we’ll consider them. I for one – I don’t want to think about playing that long, my hand would fall off but the boys would probably be up for it, they’re up for anything.
‘Pussyfootin’ is a funny word to use for a record title. Is there any significance to the use of this word as a title?
AG: It does have a certain amount of relevance to the lyrical content of the song. That said, it’s probably a minor reference or a minor connection. The song itself, we are very good at dreaming up extremely terrible, terrible song titles in the band room. The most abdominal things that we dream up, laugh our arses off about it, but then a little way down track – OK, now we actually have to name this song, ‘cause we’re not calling it what is scribbled on the bit of paper over there. ‘Pussyfootin’ could have very much been a name … from memory that all of us at the end of our practice got real frustrated, someone probably just yelled it out and everyone went, “OK, done – no more debates, no more arguments”. I don’t recall that song having a name beforehand. Naming stuff isn’t something that we do. We actually made the seven-inch, put it all together, recorded, got the art work back and then kind of went “Ahh … it doesn’t really have a title of its own, does it? Oh well, whatever.” And we just decided not to give an official like Real Pain Supernova type title. It is all what it is.
I see that you guys have put a cover of Big Black’s ‘Jordan, Minnesota’ on this EP. As we all should know that was Steve Albini’s first musical project. I was wondering what drew you guys towards this particular song?
AG: Again, you were talking about the seven nights earlier, it sprung from that. The seven nights was, probably what you came to see, was the ideas that we could physically manifest and do in the time frame we had. Of course, our ideas were much more grand and much more time consuming than we thought we could do, we thought we could do an entire night of covers. Another Brisbane band, Undead Apes, successfully did that at The Waiting Room recently, so my hat off to them. We didn’t get a total 40 minutes of other people’s songs to a point where we were happy to present them to other people. Of the bunch of songs that had running through at one stage, ‘Jordan’ was the stand out. It was the one that just really gelled. You think of Big Black, you think of Steve Albini, you think of his guitar sound and it is like glass. It is the upper register of sound, and it’s pretty amazing, but doing it through two bass guitars is the polar opposite.
I had the absolute pleasure of contacting him and asking him if it was cool for us to cover and release this song. He basically said, “Yep, you can do what you want, I don’t care, I don’t want to know about it, I don’t want to listen to it, you can make as much money off it as you want, but just keep it away from me”. It’s a song that seems to have a history and a life of its own. It’s also a pretty bleak song. I think it’s a very amazing song, in that listen to it on a surface level and it just sounds abhorrent, listen to it on a real, getting it into the song, and it’s abhorrent in a completely different way. I think it’s an amazing anti-sexual violence song and one that probably most of its listeners don’t even think of it as.
Do you still retain a hope that Steve might get to listen your version at some stage?
AG: God, I hope not! Oh look, how could I sit here and say, “I hope Steve Albini doesn’t listen my music, I can’t say that”. But the fact of the matter is I assume that he’s got half-arsed musicians from all over the world contacting him every now and then going, “Hey, look, we just did your song, we just ran a mincer and spat it out the other end, do you want to have a listen to it?” If anyone did that to me, I probably wouldn’t what to listen to it. I’m quite OK with him sticking to his day job and not wanting to revisit other people revisiting his past.
Going back to what No Anchor are doing at the moment, I happened to be listening to an interview Ian did for New Weird Australia, which is a radio program on FBI. He was talking about what you guys were doing at the moment – I think it was only done last week – and he said you guys were already in the process of writing the follow up, full length record, and he kind of said the songs were a lot more ‘positive’ or ‘optimistic’, I think. I was wondering what the whole story was around that?
AG: Well, positive is a funny thing when you’re trying to ram 125 decibels of sound into each other’s faces in a small confined room. We are definitely writing, I think we’ve got a good five or six tunes that are in various stages of being dismantled or being put together. I’m sure, if I think, they all have terrible song titles at the moment. Positive is a funny word to use. Obviously, over time things are flowing a bit easier in the songwriting. We’re getting a lot more comfortable in lot more comfortable with trying new things. Things don’t seem that much of a leap of faith. So, positive is probably a pseudonym for ‘enjoyable’ or ‘actually not ripping each other’s heads off in the process of trying to make music’.