The Collapse Board Interview: Kirsty Tickle (Party Dozen)
Party Dozen are a band that stays with you.
On paper, a drummer/saxophonist duo might not sound like an obvious choice of band to go and see but with a bunch of effects pedals and some additional triggered electronica, Jonathan Boulet’s sophisticated drum patterns and Kirsty Tickle’s lung-bursting sax always provide a completely compelling set. If you’ve seen them, you won’t have forgotten the experience.
Ahead of the release of the band’s second album, Pray For Party Dozen, we spoke to Kirsty Tickle about the influence cults and propaganda have played on the album, how playing in Party Dozen gave her confidence a boost and why she’s continually surprised that people care about the band.
Collapse Board: You said on you Facebook page that it feels like a brutal time to be releasing an album. Presumably it’s a combination of frustration and disappointment for you?
Kirsty Tickle: It’s really hard to know because you only know the route you’re taking, you know, you don’t have the other options available to you. So it’s sort of difficult to know whether it’s beneficial or not beneficial but I guess the most difficult thing for us is that we’re a live band. We love performing live and we can’t do that at the moment, obviously. But that’s okay, we can do that later on. There have been some ups to it. I think people have been really receptive because they are home and they’re not doing that much and they’ve been really supportive in that way.
CB: Being the position everyone is currently in, have there been any benefits for you from everything being locked down? Have you had more time to work on new song ideas?
KT: Yeah, we’ve still been playing together. We have a studio that that is big enough to satisfy social distancing rules as a workplace, so Jonathan and I have still being able to go and do some recording and have some jams, which has been really great.
CB: You played Isol-Aid Festival [the online weekend streaming festival] recently. How did that go for you?
KT: That was great fun, it was really good. We managed to figure out how to mix down into a decent-sounding, loud, straight-to-Instagram for the audio stream, so it ended up sounding really good, which we were quite concerned about. We can’t really do much of an acoustic Party Dozen set unfortunately, but we figured it out!
CB: You’re about to release your second album, Pray For Party Dozen. How did it come together?
KT: We started writing the new record pretty soon after releasing the first one and we wrote it over about two years. Our process is that we write loops and we try to make as many different vibes as possible and then we see what works, improvising over them, seeing whether they feel right. And if they do they make a record!
CB: As a band based on improvisation, did you have tonnes of ideas you’re previously recorded that you just could revisit or did you start the new album from scratch?
KT: We started from scratch. I think both of us have the personality where once something has existed for a reasonable amount of time, if we haven’t done anything with it, we just want to move on and keep creating things. We don’t revisit.
CB: When you start with those loops, do you, do you discuss what it sounds like to give it a context and to direct what you add on top?
KT: Normally when we have a session, we’ll do two to three hours using one or two ideas or instruments to create the loops and then we pick out the best sections and work on how they can fit together. Then talk about what we could do over that and give it a go.
CB: For your first album I read that you did three versions of a song and picked the favorite one. You’ve stuck with that process for Pray For Party Dozen?
KT: Yeah, we still do that. Three’s always been our lucky number!
CB: Given that you do improvise, is it hard to let go of a song or are you disciplined to stop and move on to the next idea?
KT: It’s very vibe-based, it’s very feeling-based. I don’t know if it sounds wanky to say that, but I think both of us just trust our instincts and trust how whatever we’ve created feels like. And if it feels good, then we trust that.
CB: Was there anything you wanted to achieve in particular with Pray for Party Dozen that you don’t think you achieved with your debut album, The Living Man?
KT: We really wanted to create a broader record in terms of sonic idea and tone color, make it stretch into areas that Party Dozen hasn’t stretched into before, more grooves and more listenable music. I think the first record was very noisy and rough and raw, whereas I feel like this one has a little bit more elegance to it in some ways.
CB: Has that difference come from playing longer together or just thinking about what you wanted to achieve? Did you see that as the purpose of your first album?
KT: I think with the first album, neither of us had ever recorded a full noisy records before and we really pushed hard into that direction and that felt very satisfying. This time we kept some of those elements but just strengthened the project by trying out new things, I think.
CB: The press release for Pray For Party Dozen says it’s been inspired by cults, how did that come to be an influence?
KT: I feel like I’m going to regret that being in the press release! We were talking about cults a lot and talking about ideology and more about creating a world that something could live in that you could really believe in. We wanted to make the record feel like it was our world and that’s why we called the first single ‘Party Dozen’ because we thought it really exemplified what our band was and who we wanted to be. From there we started talking about calling the record Pray For Party Dozen and how each song could fit into this kind of story arc about us being some form of, I don’t know, idealism, I guess more than anything, or like an idealistic musical group. But it was meant to be mostly a joke! Like not to say we think we’re Jesus or anything but just bringing people into our world and making it feel like a cohesive idea.
CB: Looking at the song titles, there does seem to be some consistency in what they lean towards, or look to infer, rather than just being a series of random titles.
KT: Yeah, we definitely thought about it, especially opening with the ‘World Prayer’, the volume is absolutely psycho and probably the noisiest thing that we’ve ever created. Just the idea of starting a record with a prayer, again it’s meant to be a bit of tongue in cheek, we don’t take ourselves too seriously.
CB: You’ve added vocals on two of the album’s songs ‘Gun Control’ and ‘Scheisse Kunst’. As it’s hard to decipher what you’re singing, I’m assuming you wanted to avoid any traditional vocals and treat your voice more as an instrument?
KT: I just sing into the sax mic on the bell of my instrument, so it’s still going through a lot of the effects pedals. And yeah, just as you say, using it as instrument instead of as a melody or for lyrical content, we don’t tend to go towards narrative too much, even with the whole ‘cult’ thing. It’s not about that being the narrative, that’s just an idea, like an overarching idea, rather than one narrative for the band.
CB: I was reading an interview from a couple years ago where you said you’re honestly surprised anyone gives a shit about the band.
KT: Yep, continually!
CB: Why do you think that?
KT: Because it’s not a band that we started for anybody else. I’m not saying that other musicians start music for anyone else, but I’ve had projects that I’ve done where I’ve considered a lot of the other aspects of the music, even when I first begun them, whereas Party Dozen was really just for Jonathan and I to create and do something that we really, really enjoy. I don’t think there’s anything that I get more joy out of than playing a Party Dozen live show. It’s a bit of an odd band. It’s a saxophone through effects pedals, and I’m not the most amazing sax player in the world, I’m okay, but I’m not like a big jazz dude who can just rip out a big solo, I rely on effects pedals to say something interesting. I guess I didn’t expect anybody to care very much and it didn’t matter if they did or not because we were having such a great time. We still have such a great time creating the music and playing live shows, so it still doesn’t matter. We’re so grateful and we’re so thankful that people do care, but even if they didn’t, we’d still be making it.
CB: I find that because there’s no one else really like you, you really stand out. You get all these press releases from bands and their publicist writes that they’re genre-defying and you listen to them and end up thinking “Well, no you’re not, you’re just some typical indie guitar band,” but you’re one of those bands where it’s really hard to describe what you are or the music you play. It’s sort of electronic, but it’s sort of, I guess easy, or possibly just lazy, to describe you as jazz because it’s a saxophone and drums, but it’s not really jazz drumming or jazz saxophone in the more traditional sense, and there’s a drone element and I guess a post-rock instrumental feel, and you’re a bit Krautrock. Do you spend any time thinking about how you fit in and what you are trying to achieve overall?
KT: I don’t think we think about how we’re fitting in. When we first started it, we just saw ourselves as a punk band, which is funny because obviously a lot of punk is song-based and word-based and we don’t have any of that, but I think the overall spirit of the thing is punk, if I was going to put a genre on it. But I don’t think we really mind if we fit in or not, we’ve got such broad music tastes and we write a lot of different music so I think it’s okay to float over a couple of different genres. It’s nice for us because we can play in a lot of different shows as well. We played shows with people or supported people where I just thought their audience would absolutely hate us. We played this uni show in Wollongong and I was just like, “This is going to be hard, these 18 year olds just want to party and they’re absolutely going to hate us,” and it was a really, really great show. I’m just constantly surprised how happy people are to get on board, even if it’s not the normal thing they’d listen to.
CB: I also wanted to ask you about something else you mentioned in a previous interviews, about confidence. I think it might have been an Exhibitionist [Kirsty’s solo project] interview and you said that playing in Party Dozen gave you confidence. How did playing in the band give you confidence?
KT: My life feels really divided into the time before I played saxophone on stage and the time after and it’s probably just a coincidence of the age I was when I started playing it on stage. I studied classical clarinet and just played keyboards in indie bands for a long time and then I switched over to the saxophone when I started doing this Party Dozen stuff, because it’s pretty similar to the clarinet to be honest with you, but I just felt like I was doing something interesting that I felt like I could do fairly competently and that it was something that maybe not everybody was doing anything similar to. So I think that gave me some confidence to feel like I was part of the musical landscape and adding something, instead of just standing there and doing the same thing as other people. I felt like I was defining something new for myself instead of joining somebody else’s musical idea. When I do Exhibitionist, it’s like I love it and the songs are awesome, but like I’m not redefining the wheel with that project, I’m just making electronic pop songs. But with Party Dozen it feels more creative, I think.
CB: I remember seeing you back in the day playing keyboards with Little Scout [the Brisbane band Kirsty played in with her sister, Mel in the late 2000s/early 2010s], was it difficult to transition to essentially being the front person for Party Dozen?
KT: Not with the sax in my hand. I will say for the first year and a half of us playing, I think I was a fairly unremarkable frontwoman. I sort of just kept my head down and did my thing. And then we were playing a festival in Sydney called King Street Crawl, which like hundreds of bands play, and I remember that the band before us played over time and it really pissed me off, because the sets are really, really tight. Because I’ve been playing so long, I’ve always been quite firm about finishing at the time you’re meant to finish at, because otherwise you’re going to be detrimental to somebody else’s set. And so it kind of pissed me off but then we had this really great show where I just kind of let loose a bit more. That was a couple of years ago and I think that that really changed the way that we worked as a band, when I realised that I could be a little bit more, not aggressive, but energetic on stage. It was also the time when I decided to get a wireless mic for my sax as well, and that just makes it so much easier, not being tethered to something on stage.
CB: I always like to ask about people’s album art and you’ve gone for a plain text cover for Pray For Party Dozen, how did that come about?
KT: We were looking at doing something more art-based but along with thinking about the whole cult thing, we were looking at a lot of propaganda artwork and how a lot of it is really text-based but with really specific fonts. I felt like ‘The PDD’ was kind of like a joke, from the DDR [Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR), often known in English as East Germany], and we were originally going to call it ‘The PDR’ for the song title. So we were just thinking about a lot of times in history when cults or religion or governments used a lot of text-based propaganda, and were inspired by that. We were also watching a lot of Film Noir and really liked the colours and the titles for most of those films. When you see the old film posters, the text is quite large and it’s always a black and white photo with big red text and we were quite inspired by that as well. There’s a poster in the vinyl as well, we just haven’t revealed that yet!
Pray For Party Dozen is available from Party Dozen’s bandcamp site.