The Monthly Nick

The Monthly Nick - Nick Milligan by Ben Mitchell

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NEWCASTLE IS A CITY FILLED WITH MEN OF MANY NAMES – PLENTY OF MATTS, SEANS, LUKES AND BENS – BUT AFTER YEARS OF STEEL CITY MINGLING, THIS REPORTER HAS FOUND THAT THE REAL PIONEERS, THE NOVOCASTRIAN GLUE HOLDING THE CULTURAL SCENE TOGETHER, ALL SHARE A NAME WITH THE HUMBLE SAINT NICHOLAS. OUR CITY IS BURSTING AT THE SEAMS WITH NICKS, EACH DOING THEIR PART TO MAKE IT A BETTER PLACE. AFTER NOTICING THE COMMON BOND OF PASSION AND AMBITION ATTACHED TO THE NAME, IT WAS ONLY A MATTER OF TIME BEFORE THE MONTHLY NICK CAME INTO FRUITION, AS THERE ARE LIKELY SEVERAL NICKS NEAR YOU, KEEPING THE DREAM ALIVE IN THEIR OWN WAY, REGARDLESS OF RECOGNITION OR CELEBRATION. THESE ARE THEIR STORIES.1492311_10153714848510035_876247877_o I feel as though I have done the good people of Newcastle a disservice in my article on October’s Monthly Nick, local writer, Nick Milligan. I’ve always struggled with eBooks  (if you’re reading the printed version of this article, I’m sure you can relate) as the concept of keeping my attention in one place digesting information that is not on the printed page has always been an obstacle for me. When the October Nick gave me a digital copy of his debut novel Enormity to read before our interview, I explained my deterrence to the kindle and that I wanted to pick up a printed copy to read it properly, proceeding to carry on with that article as if I had read more than just the blurb. The perfect crime. You were all none the wiser. Months later, finally the owner of a hard copy, I found myself spending twice as much time on trains – which had quickly become sacred chambers of quiet carriage concentration,    desperate to cram in another chapter of what could be my favourite thing to come out of Newcastle.

Enormity is a very difficult story to give an ‘elevator pitch’ for. Before I sat down with Nick about the book, I was told it was about an astronaut who lands on another planet and becomes a famous rock star by claiming popular earth songs as his own. This immediately gave the sci-fi comedy vibe of the Craig Robinson plotline in Hot Tub Time Machine, or the Enchantment Under The Sea dance in Back To The Future, and, if anything, gave me the wrong impression. About halfway into the novel, it became clear that using that synopsis would be like saying Breaking Bad is about meth, or Watchmen is about superheroes – one over-arching plotpoint is used as a jumping-off point for much larger, darker and more abstract themes. Enormity isn’t the sexy satirical rock and roll romp I was expecting, but a very genuine-feeling epic, transcending genres of sci-fi, horror, action, suspense and dark comedy.

Though the idea of dishonesty leading to unwarranted success is a big part of Enormity, a much more important theme explored in its chapters is the concept of celebrity, and how members of the entertainment industry are put on a pedestal by the general public. This is shown (without a grain of metaphoric subtlety) by this new planet treating our lyric-stealing protagonist, Jack, like the second coming of Christ, when his own sense of morality and self-indulgent behaviour should really have him fingered as a fallen angel. In between the sex and drugs, the small glimpses that are offered of the planet’s society, history and biology paint it as a much more peaceful utopian version of our own, and Jack’s alien presence there, along with his ‘discovery’ of rock and roll, is a ticking time bomb of disruption that he is very aware of.  Along with uncovering a nation-wide conspiracy, interacting with deadly other-worldly creatures, fabricating an intricate web of lies to conceal his alien status and the slew of his other experiences covered in Enormity, I can understand why these themes were omitted by readers using the ‘rockstars in space’ pitch. Describing a mix of Paradise Lost, Total Recall and Almost Famous, as if written by a lovechild of Brian K Vaughan, Kevin Smith and Henry Rollins, would be a very difficult thing to do in an elevator.

Enormity is a very easy read. With short, sharp sentences and well-resolved chapters with definitive peaks and valleys, it plays out in a very cinematic manner with a non-linear timeline, bouncing between the present and past like a jigsaw the reader needs to put together. As it is told from the perspective of the story’s only earth-native character, Jack’s role as narrator becomes similar to that of Twin Peaks’ Agent Dale Cooper, who David Lynch once described as an innocent: a ‘person you trust enough to go into a strange world with’. As Jack marvels over the difference between this new planet and his home, the reader is right there with him, which makes for very believable transitions between experimenting with other-worldly drugs in one scene, and hiding from gigantic alien spiders in the next.  It’s easy, at times, to forget you’re reading a novel with sci-fi elements, as Enormity is speckled with charming, believable situations that could easily happen on our home planet, like Jack and his bandmates competing to get the pull-quote in an interview, or Jack’s reluctance to corrupt his next-door neighbour’s seemingly innocent daughter. Similarly, despite the very dark mix of horror and sci-fi the story can foray into, the novel can be refreshingly tongue-in-cheek at times, as well as very erotic, with a surprising level of intricacy. This has lead me to believe that Nick Milligan, the jolly Music and Movie Trivia host we all know and love, is secretly very good at sex and sex-related things. Take note.996648_10153534061610035_1253434956_n

It should not be taken lightly that I found this novel very hard to put down, as I have grown accustomed to (and developed my life’s profession around) written words with accompanying visuals.  Nick once told me about the time he wrote a letter to Ralph magazine, commending them on their inclusion of model Jennifer Hawkins, predicting very big things for her future career. This was years before Hawkins became 2004’s Miss Universe, and the clipping of the printed letter became a prized possession of his, as confirmation of his good taste before the hype. I feel like this review will serve a similar purpose in my life. Give it a few years, and Enormity is going to be huge. If we can get to 2030 without seeing Jared Leto’s portrayal of Jack on the big screen, faking an Australian accent to describe his motivations behind writing Stairway To Heaven, I will eat my hat!

Storm Clouds by Kian West

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WHEN GRAPHIC DESIGNER HEAVYWEIGHT BEN MITCHELL ISN'T COVERING LOCAL DUDES NAMED NICK FOR THIS HOT LITTLE MAGAZINE, HE'S WORKING ON HIS TASTY NEW COMIC CALLED STORM CLOUDS, KIAN CAUGHT UP WITH MR. "MAD DOG" MITCHELL THIS MONTH TO GET THE LOWDOWN. 1616623_707214519298997_1853752041_n

Without giving too much away, What should people know about Storm Clouds?

Storm Clouds is a 60-page risograph comic book about a young detective from Sydney travelling back to her hometown in search of a masked serial killer, wanted for a series of night club murders. The story deals with a lot of different themes, as the main character finds herself losing sleep, losing friends and having a love-hate-love with the city she’s in. It’s all printed in two colours – black and gold - so the graphics are pretty cartoony, and though it has moments of comic relief and satire, the story is actually a pretty serious crime thriller with a bunch of twists and secrets.

 

Why a comic book?

I’ve been an avid fan of comic books since I was a kid, and as my line of work – as a graphic designer – is always forcing me to experiment with different ways to show things visually, I’ve been really interested in how the comic book format works, and how it can be experimented with. Part of the comic was actually made to support a thesis I wrote last year about comic book design, and how you can use graphic design principles as tools to tell an immersive story. I’ve worked on comic projects before, but this is the first thing I’ve ever done of this scale, and the longest I’ve ever stuck with one project – I remember starting the artwork around the same time we were organizing the Super show, back in July. It’s certainly been a labour of love putting it together, and I’m really excited to share it with everyone when it launches this March!1620322_707214415965674_1160669001_n

 

Having read the first few chapters of your comic book, my first question has to be where did the inspiration for this come from?

I think anyone close enough to me will see a lot of my life reflected in the story, which is, I guess, a result of me trying to write about what I know. When I was first working as a designer, two of my first regular clients were a chain of nightclubs in Sydney and the PCYC of NSW, both of which I ended up working really closely with – so the initial story revolving around a young police officer investigating a series of night club murders came very naturally to me. A big part of the story revolves around the two main characters’ reactions to travelling from Sydney to a much smaller fictional city named Bontown, and the differences between communities based on size. Considering the majority of my friends have moved cities within the past year, I’ve witnessed a lot of this sort of culture shock first hand. One of the main characters is in an obnoxious, misogynistic hardcore band, and that whole sort of scene mentality is explored in the comic – something I dealt with a lot when I was growing up, both as an insider and an outsider looking in. That, and a few of the characters are loosely based on people I’ve met and worked with, and there are a lot of Newcastle-related inside jokes hidden in the story which I think will mostly go over a lot of people’s heads. Like the two main streets in Bontown being named Queen and Collector. I’ll give you a minute.

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How long has this idea been floating around?

Quite a while, now! A very, very early version of the comic was bouncing around five months ago, with the same story but extremely rough artwork. After months and months of rewrites and bouncing ideas off friends for feedback, polishing off the artwork is the last piece of the puzzle, and I finally feel as though I can see the finish line! I’m very close now. Today I smashed out two of the final pages in record time, and have one last spread between me and the end. I’ve had a schedule worked out for the past couple months, but due to a bunch of stuff popping up at work for January (and also, most recently, my old band getting back together) I’ve fallen a little behind! As I’m not completing the pages in chronological order, the last scene I need to draw is smack-bang in the middle of the book, where shit starts getting real. I’m very excited for it to be finished so I can read the whole thing all the way through!

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Ben, you certainly have a Signature style, who do you take inspiration from?

It’s funny you’ve picked up on this, because I’ve been struggling with the idea of a ‘signature style’ for a while now. Like I said before, this is the longest I’ve ever worked on the one project, and the longest I’ve had to stick with the same illustration style, so the whole thing feels unified. Prior to working on Storm Clouds, I would be experimenting with different styles all the time, so sticking with the one way of drawing eyes, lips and fingers for this long has been driving me bananas!

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The style I’ve been trying to go for with this project has been heavily inspired by alternative cartoonists like Daniel Clowes and Adrian Tomine – who usually tell stories that focus on the mundane subtleties of social norms – like the comic book equivalent of Seinfeld – and have a very static, clean cut illustration style to match. I wanted to tell an action thriller using this style, rather than in the dynamic, cinematic look used in mainstream superhero comics, to create a sort of unsettling juxtaposition when shit starts to get real. There’s something offputting about showing a violent action scene in the same flat, straightforward way that you would a relaxed conversation scene, rather than show it over a series of exaggerated camera angles bursting out of each panel. I feel like that would just get exhausting!

 

Once Storm Clouds is out there, do you have a new project ready to work on?

I think for the past two or three years, there’s never been a period where I’ve been without something to keep me busy. As soon as I finish the art for Storm Clouds I’m collaborating with a local writer on another comic project, which will be very exciting, along with a bunch of other large-scale illustration projects I’m currently involved with but can’t say much about! Depending on how Storm Clouds is received I would love to do another story with these characters – I mentioned one in an obnoxious hardcore band – in a sequel or prequel story. I think once you’ve read the ending to Storm Clouds you’ll get how both could work. I’ve been kicking around different ways I could approach another installment, and how I could get some of my friends (namely writer Nick Milligan) in on it as well. Working on this comic has been a learning process, so

I’m excited to try another one in a completely different manner – different art styles, shorter stories, not having the entire thing in black and yellow… We’ll see!

 

As a long time contributor to Mirage, Ben, you sure do work in a lot of creative fields, is there a particular field you prefer or is being creative the main driver for you?

This is a difficult question to answer, especially since I’ve recently began playing with a band again, which is a very different kind of creative outlet. Visuals are always going to make more sense to me, and so I always prefer working with pictures over words, but I’ve always enjoyed the idea of being a storyteller. When I was writing songs for the aforementioned band – like four years ago – I would always try to tell a story with the lyrics. I think using comics as a form of visual storytelling is the most comfortable I’ve been creatively in a long time. I am very excited and very nervous to pursue it further.

 

If you had to pick one thing about Newcastle to show, or tell, a visitor, what would it be that everyone should know about?

The Sunday markets at The Store across the road from the Cambridge, in City West. There is a dude there who I am pretty sure has just found a shipping container of untouched treasures from 1999 and is slowly selling it all off. Last weekend my buddy Luke went home with a Danny Buderus action figure. I’ve never been prouder to come from this city.

 

Renowned for some highly creative and successful events in the community, is there something special in the pipeline for the launch of Storm Clouds?

Ah, yes! I’m planning a launch for the comic on March 14th at Churchkey Espresso – a week after my friend Nadia, who I named the main character after, returns from Japan. So far all I’ve set is the date, but it’s going to be quite the night! There will be art on the walls, a performance from the actual same DJ featured in the comic (aka K-Rock wearing a mask), watermelon, a chance to pick up a special edition version of the comic for a very special price and just a good excuse to have a fun evening on Hunter Street. After the launch, the comic will be available at Graphic Action, and online through my friends Fun Apparel’s zine distro service.

 

Anything else NM readers should know about you Ben?

I’m single, and looking for a girl who can distract me from the fact that all of my friends are moving to different cities.

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Oh yeah, and what is Risograph?

A loaded question to finish on! It’s an artisan printing process that sort of looks like a mix between photocopying and letterpress. Essentially, rather than the pages being printed digitally with four inks, they’re printed manually with two inks (black and gold) and you can see how the colours overlap and bleed into each other. A few of my favourite indie artists, like Ryan Cecil Smith, Box Brown and Luke Pelletier have produced riso books in the past, and I love the way the look! My comic is being printed in Melbourne by a small company called Dawn Press – who produced Marcus Dixon’s Better Me Than You/Better You Than Me

zine last year – on super pulpy newsprint stock, like an old comic from the 50’s. I’ve got a proof copy of the first few pages back from the printers, and being able to feel the ink raised on the page, getting sucked into the paper, provokes a feeling you’d never get from reading the comic on an iPad, or on your computer. I’m really, really excited about being able to hold the final copy. Even if no one buys one.

 

Facebook.com/stormcloudscomic (for news)

Benmitchell.com.au (for ben)

 

 

KW

THE MONTHLY NICK - JANUARY - NICK McCOSKER by Ben Mitchell

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NEWCASTLE IS A CITY FILLED WITH MEN OF MANY NAMES – PLENTY OF MATTS, SEANS, LUKES AND BENS – BUT AFTER YEARS OF STEEL CITY MINGLING, THIS REPORTER HAS FOUND THAT THE REAL PIONEERS, THE NOVOCASTRIAN GLUE HOLDING THE CULTURAL SCENE TOGETHER, ALL SHARE A NAME WITH THE HUMBLE SAINT NICHOLAS. OUR CITY IS BURSTING AT THE SEAMS WITH NICKS, EACH DOING THEIR PART TO MAKE IT A BETTER PLACE. AFTER NOTICING THE COMMON BOND OF PASSION AND AMBITION ATTACHED TO THE NAME, IT WAS ONLY A MATTER OF TIME BEFORE THE MONTHLY NICK CAME INTO FRUITION, AS THERE ARE LIKELY SEVERAL NICKS NEAR YOU, KEEPING THE DREAM ALIVE IN THEIR OWN WAY, REGARDLESS OF RECOGNITION OR CELEBRATION. THESE ARE THEIR STORIES.ISSUE_8_COV2 V2

I had to think very hard to remember when it was I first met the ex-Novacastrian star of screen and typography, Nick McCosker, but what was immediately evident was that it hadn’t happened early enough. His recent relocation to Redfern has somewhat stunted our bromantic adventures through Newcastle’s creative scene, and I can tell my bearded kindred spirit is beginning to miss them as much as I. This month’s Nick has completed a bachelor’s degree in Design at the University of Newcastle, developed many famous digital fonts for the Lost Type Co-Op, become a TV heart throb overnight and landed a job at Medusa Design, Sydney city’s branding agency to the stars. And I’ve witnessed it every step of the way.

I only knew Nick briefly through his University days, mainly as the host of every design-related event the faculty held, before later passing that mantle onto me. Working as a photographer for these events eventually lead to us crossing paths, hitting it off and later working together at shared studio in town. Nick’s work as a freelance designer played a huge part in crafting the identity of local business chain Superstrike Bowling, which is owned and managed by McCosker’s father in law. Throughout the years, Nick has transformed what could be a very cheesy establishment into the classiest looking bowling bar in the Hunter Region, with his signature focus on illustrated patterns and stylised typography shining strong. Perhaps his most important contribution to the Superstrike kingdom is their advertising mascot, Strike Dudley, who has captured the heart of a nation and upset multiple old people in the space of a year.

Dudley, an obnoxious, over-enthusiastic ‘pro-bowler’, began as a costume sketch by Nick, originally intended to be worn by a trained actor. As deadlines grew closer for a run of television advertisements and Youtube webisodes, Nick ended up donning the Dudley jumpsuit himself. The videos – thanks to the twisted sense of humour of GMRX Media – got more and more absurd as Strike Dudley’s popularity grew, and lead to several huge television advertising campaigns, billboards, musical radio advertisements, teenagers putting together D.I.Y Dudley costumes and even a few troubled phonecalls regarding the company’s choice to use such a seedy individual for their campaigns. Nick has since distanced himself from the character personally, assuring anyone who comments on seeing him on television that they were actually seeing Strike Dudley, a different person all together.

Despite the abundance of seedy moustaches and denim vests plastering the walls of each Superstrike alley in the Hunter region, you’ll find a close attention to the typography in each design as a result of Nick’s handiwork. His main passion as a designer has always been typography; be it his hand-painted signage in the Little Nel Café and Newcastle Mall’s Emporium, claiming presidency in his very own Type Club in Newcastle or developing digital fonts for himself, one letterform at a time. Over the past few years the type foundry website Lost Type Co-Op has skyrocketed in popularity with all types of graphic designers, partly owed to the work McCosker put into the font families Carton and Quaver.  The latter, developed as a university project between Nick and two mates, has seen a steady success over the past few years and lead to the construction of Carton, a slab serif typeface, and the soon-to-be-released Elkwood, an even slabbier serif typeface. Nick has been planning for the past few months to open a type foundry of his own to distribute fonts made by himself and friends – but not until he’s come up with a good enough name.

Nick’s typographic celebrity status was bound to get him attention, and it was only a matter of time before he was snatched up by branding and identity specialists Medusa Design earlier this year. The Sydney-based agency has seen him work for bands, businesses and restaurants all over the country, and Nick has never been busier since trading his quirky little house in Cook’s Hill for a swanky Redfern apartment with his smoking-hot designer wife. Having originated in Nelson Bay, moved to Newcastle to study, travelled the world on his Lost Type earnings and finally settling in Sydney, Nick has seen creative communities of all shapes and sizes ¬– but to him, Newcastle will always feel like home. “Because Newy is a smaller city, I get the feeling it’s a more connected scene,” Nick explained, “Because of its small town attitude, I feel like people [from NewISSUE_8_COV2 V1castle] are less intimidated to have a go at something new, and are more likely to communicate with one another.”

Despite his current location, Nick often gets involved with art events in Newcastle (he even recently appeared in the BADDIES collaboration piece in July’s Super show at Curve Gallery) and will continue to do so in the future.  His moustachioed alter ego is currently featuring on television screens region-wide during peak advertising hours, and can be heard meekly attempting a Mexican accent in NXFM radio spots every once in a blue moon. You can find a selection of his graphic design work on his portfolio website – nickmacdesign.com – and his new type foundry will certainly be one to look out for… As soon as it has a freaking name!

Safe Hands by Ben Mitchell

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It is with a heavy heart that I announce that November’s Monthly Nick was too busy ‘doing famous person shit’ to meet for a proper interview, so I have used this month to explore the musical adventures of a man with the same name as myself. Considering none of the Nicks I know are musicians, I felt like this was a great opportunity to look into the work of the band Safe Hands, under the understanding that if you leave something in safe hands, it will return to you… in good nick. Safe Hands

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve seen a music journalist describe a band’s live show as ‘chaotic’, I’d have enough coins to take them all to see the local noise band Safe Hands ¬– preferably at the Cambridge Hotel. Not only because it’s where I’ve seen them perform at their most outrageous, but because it is in walking distance from Market Town Officeworks, where they’d all need to purchase thesauruses to use in updating their previous writing. To my knowledge, no one does chaos quite like Safe Hands. Having been around since I first started regularly attending local shows, they are one of the only remaining Newcastle bands of which I still have fond youthhood memories, and their live shows have seen me through my awkward careers as both a hardcore musician and photographer. So, understandably, it was a very long time coming that I finally got to share eleven-or-so questions with their lead vocalist and lyricist, Benjamin ‘Diz’ Louttit (older brother of Jess Louttit, of Arthive fame), partly as a writer, but mostly as a fan.

Safe Hands, who have been my favourite Newcastle band for a long time, recently released their first full-length album ‘Montenegro’ on CD and vinyl, welcomed a new drummer and arrived home from a national tour with UK band Rolo Tomassi. The band have generally gotten into all kinds of trouble, so Ben and I had a lot to talk about – at 1AM, after a ridiculously long shelf-stacking gig.

 

 

1. TO BEGIN, COULD YOU PLEASE TELL THE READERS A BIT ABOUT YOU, AND YOUR BAND, AS IF THEY WERE TOURISTS?

Greetings. My name is Benjamin Louttit and I'm the vocalist and one-time bassist of Safe Hands. The band came to fruition in the last few months of 2006 as the brainchild of Anthony (Webster, guitar) and myself as our old band was breaking up. We recruited three mates and pottered around Newcastle for a few years before finally settling on a lineup that could do some solid touring in 2011. Around this time I switched from bass/backing vocals to lead vocals and we recorded an EP called Oh The Humanity which caught the interest of Adelaide-based independent label Pee Records. After getting a few interstate shows under our collective belts we got to writing and recording a full-length album entitled Montenegro which was released in March of this year, which coincided with a national tour and our first shows outside of Australia in South-East Asia.

1.5 ALSO, PLEASE TELL ME WHERE THE NAME 'SAFE HANDS' COMES FROM! I HAVE HEARD A FEW SCATTERED STORIES ABOUT THE 'SAFE HANDS' ORIGIN, BUT ITS TIME TO SET THE RECORD STRAIGHT!

The origin behind the name has been shrouded in secrecy for some reason, but it actually stems from when Anthony and some of our original members, Alex and James, spent time helping out at a school for autistic children. "Safe hands" is something the supervisors there would say to calm a child who was brandishing say a pair of scissors in a threatening way and it would put them into a lucid zen-like state. Anyway it was around the same time we needed a name and while it's not exactly memorable it just kind of stuck.

2. FOR THE MANY YEARS SAFE HANDS HAS BEEN TOGETHER, YOU'VE GONE THROUGH QUITE A FEW LINEUP CHANGES… YOU'VE EVEN RECENTLY GOT YOURSELF A NEW DRUMMER! DO YOU THINK YOURSELF AS THE SAME BAND AS YOU WERE WHEN YOU STARTED? WHO IS LEFT? WAS IT DAUNTING CHANGING FROM BASS/VOCALS TO LEAD VOCALS? HOW WAS IT ADAPTING TO A NEW WRITING PROCESS EACH TIME YOU CHANGED THE LINEUP?

Without any offence to the original incarnation of the band, we like to think the band proper began when Mick (Ayton, guitar) and Ben (Sanderson, drums) joined before we released Oh The Humanity. There was a stylistic jump there into more focused songwriting from everybody as a unit, rather than one person writing the whole song as it had been in the past. It was also around that time that we came to a collective realisation that we wanted to push this as far as we could. So while Anthony and myself are the only original members, the "v2.0" lineup really solidified the band as an entity. The change from bass to vocals wasn't a tough one as I was doing a fair amount of backing vocals before then anyway. The most daunting aspect was probably taking the bulk of lyric-writing duties as I'm way too hard on myself and it takes an eternity to get something down I'm 100% happy with. As far as the writing process goes, we had the same four core members for a good few years and we locked in pretty well in the practice studio and learned to compose as a unit. We've recently acquired a new drummer in Isaac (Gibson, also of Tired Minds) and I'm really excited to see where writing with him leads the band stylistically.

3. WHAT HAS IT BEEN LIKE, STAYING TOGETHER FOR SO LONG, WHEN SO MANY OTHER LOCAL BANDS HAVE BROKEN UP AROUND YOU? I IMAGINE YOU ALL GET ALONG VERY WELL AS FRIENDS AS WELL AS COLLABORATORS, BUT WHAT DO YOU THINK HAS KEPT THE BAND ALIVE FOR AS LONG AS IT HAS BEEN?

It's strange to be provided a kind of "elder statesmen" status purely because all the bands we used to share stages with are now defunct. The most interesting part was seeing a kind of new trend after our EP where the new bands in town were no longer all metalcore and breakdowns but ear-splitting feedback and instrument destruction instead, which was a pretty cool time. To be perfectly honest though, I can't really say what's kept us going other than we enjoy it and we haven't been beaten down enough to give it away yet.

 

3.5 THE FIRST TIME I EVER SAW YOU PLAY WOULD HAVE BEEN AROUND FOUR OR FIVE YEARS AGO AT HAMILTON STATION WITH THE AMITY AFFLICTION AND JAPANESE BAND PALM. YOU WERE STILL ON BASS/BACKING VOCALS AND JAMES OVEREND WAS ON GUITAR AND COWBOY BOOTS. JUST RECENTLY, PALM CAME BACK TO HAMILTON STATION AND IT WAS ALMOST THE SAME LINEUP AS THE LAST SHOW, APART FROM YOU BOTH BEING VERY DIFFERENT BANDS TO HOW YOU USED TO BE. WHAT WAS IT LIKE PLAYING WITH THEM AGAIN?

It was great being able to share a stage with Palm again. We opened their show in 2007 at the same venue, we can't have had more than half a dozen gigs to our name at the time. Interestingly enough, also on that bill was some band called The Amity Affliction (I wonder what happened to those guys?). It was cool to take stock of how far we'd come as a band from that show and Palm put on an incredible performance once again which had the whole of the Hamo enthralled from the get-go. So yeah it was wonderful to get that opportunity twice over.

4. AS A RESULT OF BEING TOGETHER FOR SO LONG, YOU'VE GOTTEN THE SUPPORTS FOR MANY TOURING BANDS STOPPING IN NEWCASTLE (PARKWAY DRIVE, LA DISPUTE, THE CHARIOT) AND MANAGED TO PLAY WITH MANY DIFFERENT ACTS ALL OVER THE COUNTRY - WHO HAVE BEEN YOUR FAVOURITE BANDS TO PLAY WITH, AND HANG OUT WITH?

As far as international acts go, we had a blast playing with Norma Jean and Vanna when they were here in May. Just being able to watch those guys every night was a real pleasure and very inspiring. Converge at the Manning Bar in February was basically a religious experience and hopefully we weren't too visibly nervous (despite Anthony nearly knocking himself out before playing a note). Pianos Become The Teeth also put on one of the most powerful sets I've ever seen at the Cambridge this past July too, very very tall order opening for them. Locally we've played with some amazing bands who've fast become our favourites not only as musicians but also as mates like Vanity from Perth, Bateman and Stockades from Melbourne, A Ghost Orchestra and Raccoon City Police Department from Adelaide, the list goes on.

5. YOU'VE TOURED ALL AROUND AUSTRALIA AND (MORE RECENTLY) ASIA - WHERE WAS YOUR FAVOURITE PLACE TO PLAY, AND HOW DO THE DIFFERENT SCENES STACK UP TO NEWCASTLE?

Personally I really love playing in Perth; the whole scene over there is very welcoming to bands from all facets of alternative music and is home to a slew of awesome bands. For a band that doesn't really adhere to many tropes of the hardcore genre it's always awesome to get such a warm reception. Recently we played a show in Cairns for the first time that will probably go down as one of my favourites too. Comparatively I find stacking up to Newcastle's always hard because we always have a blast sharing a room with all our mates who've supported us for years. Hopefully they'll keep coming back for a while.

6. I'M AWARE ANTHONY DID THE MAJORITY OF THE ARTWORK FOR THE FIRST FEW RELEASES AND EARLY MERCHANDISE - ARE THE BAND'S VISUALS STILL AN INSIDE JOB? WAS THE HILARIOUS 'DO YOU EVEN LIFT' T-SHIRT BY HIM AS WELL? ALSO, TELL ME ABOUT THE CONCEPT BEHIND THE BEAUTIFUL DIGITAL PAINTING ON THE FRONT OF MONTENEGRO.

Up until Montenegro all artwork was put together by Anthony, who is guilty as charged regarding the Do You Even Lift tees as well, but for the album we wanted to try and outsource the design aspect as we were having a hard time coming up with anything and bickering too much really. The album cover was done by our friend David Whittaker who was gracious enough to work for door spots to all our future shows. He's done digital graphics work on Happy Feet 2, the upcoming Lego Movie, the video game L.A. Noire and more and we loved his landscapes. We went a little obvious as far as title-to-artwork goes (Montenegro literally translates to "black mountain") and just asked for a big evil looking mountain and he definitely delivered.

7. I FIND MONTENEGRO TO BE VERY DIFFERENT FROM YOUR LAST RELEASE, OH THE HUMANITY, AND FROM WHAT I CAN TELL, MONTENEGRO TAKES ON A LOT MORE PERSONAL SUBJECT MATTER THAN IN PREVIOUS RELEASES: PARTICULARLY ON THE TITLE TRACK, WHICH FEATURES AN APPEARANCE FROM LOCAL SONGWRITER AND SPECIAL FRIEND JEN BUXTON. CAN YOU TELL ME ABOUT THE MOTIVATION BEHIND THIS SONG, AND WHAT YOU THINK SETS THE TWO RECORDS IN QUESTION APART?

I'd say the biggest difference between the two releases is that while Oh The Humanity was kind of a compilation of songs written by different lineups of the band over a period of years, Montenegro was written entirely by the same group of people. I took a much larger workload as far as lyrics go as well and tried to tie the album together so it would be a cohesive journey for the listener. The title track is easily my favorite song and we hear from a lot of people that they feel the same way. The lyrics are about the period after I left home in Tamworth to go to University in Newcastle and my subsequent time attempting to adjust to life on your own. Obviously none of my grand plans ended up panning out, I've worked variations on the same job I've had since I was 16 and not really achieved anything that I wanted to. So the end section of that song that Jen helped out with is me trying to explain to my parents that I've found some kind of peace in playing music despite all of this, even though it's probably not what they may have wanted.

8. OUTSIDE OF THE BAND, WHAT SORT OF CAREERS DO YOU ALL HAVE? DO YOU EVER SEE SAFE HANDS BECOMING A FULL TIME GIG?

Most of us work nine to five. Anth works in a call centre, Mick works in mining, Gareth (Owen, bass) is a youth worker, Isaac teaches drums and I still stack shelves most nights when we don't have a show but am aiming for a career in library work. It keeps us all humble for sure. Obviously I'd love for Safe Hands to be a sustainable source of income but for the style of music it's not really feasible unfortunately. Someday.

9. THE PAST YEAR HAS SEEN YOU DO YOUR FIRST TWO VINYL RELEASES - FIRST THE SPLIT WITH VANITY AND YOU RELEASED THE ALBUM AS AN LP. HOW DID YOU FIND THIS PROCESS, AS OPPOSED TO CD/DIGITAL RELEASES? I'M INTERESTED IN YOUR MOTIVATION BEHIND RELEASING A FULL LP ON VINYL.

We're really stoked to have some releases on vinyl. There's been a real renaissance in the format in the last few years, working like a kind of antidote to digital music. People really seem to latch on to the collector element of it and I'll admit as a longtime CD collector even I've been swept up in it. It gives the listener a chance to experience the album on a grander scale, there's something very ritualistic in carefully handling a record, placing the needle, reading the insert sheet. We've easily sold more LPs of Montenegro than we have CDs and we're really stoked with how the tangible package turned out.

10. ALSO, I'D LIKE OUR READERS TO KNOW THE FULL STORY BEHIND THE DISASTERS THAT OCCURRED DURING YOUR TOUR WITH ROLO TOMASSI AND YOUR ESCAPE FROM RURAL QUEENSLAND.

Well it was quite the ordeal. We recently played some shows in far north Queensland for the first time and were (probably not sensibly) attempting a 26 hour drive from Cairns to Newcastle in order for some of us to make our jobs on time. We've started traveling on an inland highway early in the morning only to be treated to a veritable minefield of kangaroos, one of which eventually hit us dead on and busted our radiator. About four hours later we were towed back the way we came to a mining town called Charters Towers where we got damage assessments and did a lot of swearing. The eventual solution to getting home involved an overnight stay, the local bus, a hire car and lots of driving back and forth between CT and Townsville until us and our gear were in the one place, Townsville Airport. After appealing for people to buy some merch and help out we were very humbled by the amount of people asking how they could help. It definitely turned around a very bad situation.

11. FINALLY, BEFORE THANKING YOU FOR TAKING PART IN THIS INTERVIEW, I'D LIKE TO ASK WHAT'S NEXT FOR SAFE HANDS! I CERTAINLY CAN'T SEE YOU SLOWING DOWN ANY TIME SOON.

We're hoping to put together a benefit show to raise some more cash for our accident expenses which will hopefully occur before the end of the year. We've also got a new split release in the works with two songs we recorded in July at Sydney's The Brain Studios. That'll be available on 7" early 2014 at this point. Other than that we're going to try and play as much as we can around the country as we do and eventually hunker down to work on album #2. So yeah, very exciting times ahead.

Safe Hands

 

 

 

Though Safe Hands currently don’t have any immediate tour plans, you will likely see them pop up on the bill of a local show sometime soon – so keep your eyes peeled! Their LP, Montenegro, is currently available to listen and purchase at their bandcamp page, along with the 2011 EP Oh The Humanity and their split with Vanity. You’ll probably want to get it on vinyl, because the blue splatter looks ridiculous!

 

http://safehandsaus.bandcamp.com/

https://www.facebook.com/safehandsband

 

NICK TARREN, CHURCHKEY ESPRESSO by Ben Mitchell

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Newcastle is a city filled with men of many names – plenty of Matts, Seans, Lukes and Bens – but after years of steel city mingling, this reporter has found that the real pioneers, the Novocastrian glue holding the cultural scene together, all share a name with the humble Saint Nicholas. Our city is bursting at the seams with Nicks, each doing their part to make it a better place. After noticing the common bond of passion and ambition attached to the name, it was only a matter of time before The Monthly Nick came into fruition, as there are likely several Nicks near you, keeping the dream alive in their own way, regardless of recognition or celebration. These are their stories. I first met Nick Tarren two years ago on a Tuesday, during the nightmarish situation of entertaining a female in Hunter Street Mall who did not like the taste of coffee. We were eventually pulled into a small, nameless café by a scruffy-looking but charming young man, determined for us to try his espresso, as our first cup would be free. My date was not very assertive and ended up with a free latte, and was extremely surprised to find she enjoyed it very much, (to this day she is convinced it’s the only coffee she’s ever liked) and as I was in the same boat, I made a return visit the next day. When I showed up to an empty café, I was surprised to find my new barista friend taking a seat next to me as he served me my flat white, immediately spinning me a yarn about himself and his life, and was legitimately interested in me and what I did. When I told him I was a freelance graphic designer, he informed me that this pop-up espresso space needed a logo, but first it needed a name. This was the very beginning of Conroy Bradley Pistol Club.

monthlynick-2Two years later, occasional visits have become daily visits, and every morning I observe Nick holding down the fort at his new space, Churchkey Espresso. A far cry from Conroy Bradley’s humble beginnings, the new café is an extremely well laid-out, large site with a spacious atmosphere and a dedicated exhibition area. Though every day new customers are thrilled to discover the site at 488 Hunter Street, wowed by the quality of Nick’s espresso and salted caramel bombolonis, they aren’t feeling the same kind of excitement as I am – they don’t understand how long and extensive a journey it’s been for Nick to get to this point. And, to be honest, before our forty-minute chat for The Monthly Nick, amidst the late afternoon exhaustion of trying to close up shop, I don’t think I properly understood either.

Nick’s first experience as a barista was being taught by his oldest brother, in a gruelling two-week stint of training at a small café in Sydney. It got to the point where he couldn’t really advance without immersing himself in a full time job, putting out 50 kilos of espresso a week, learning more as he went. A chance encounter making coffees at Newcastle University introduced him to a crew of roasters and baristas from the Melbourne coffee scene, and exposure to a community based around speciality coffee - quality over quantity - really struck a nerve. With no intention of working or living in Victoria, a spontaneous car trip over quickly transformed into a deferred university degree, and 13 months spent immersed in a very different kind of scene, making countless friends, connections and contacts. Nick’s eventual return to Newcastle saw him commuting to Sydney to get a decent job as a barista, running insane hours and sharing red-eye trains every morning with armies of homeless men, reading more books than he’d ever read in his life. It wasn’t long until he was home again, at local espresso bar Glee, but all he could think about was opening his own spot.

“I was itching to do my own thing,” he told me, “When you’re that close to opening your own, you know, ninety-five per cent of the way. You need that five per cent, but it’s a big five per cent, which is the site. I found the opportunity, and I got into it.”

Nick was, of course, referring to the shopfront of the Newcastle Bakehouse, which he occupied in 2011 as Conroy Bradley Pistol Club for close to a year. Named after his uncle, who reportedly had no connection to coffee nor to competitive gunplay, running the Pistol Club as a one-man-show had a steep learning curve, as did sharing a building with an entire family of Slovakian bakers. The café, which was essentially Newcastle’s best kept secret for great coffee, ended up attracting a crowd which Nick likened to a throwback to an eighteenth century Penny University ambience, as the law and sociology students who would regular at Conroy Bradley repeatedly ended up in three-hour discussions, essentially on how to mend the world. After hours, Nick would give free barista lessons to keen students, and his genuine, honest love for coffee was what kept the place alive. Even with all its charm, the Pistol Club was only ever intended as a pop-up espresso bar, the main goal being opening up Churchkey Espresso for real.

Over a year had passed between Conroy Bradley Pistol Club closing and Churchkey Espresso finally opening, and I was beginning to go insane without Nick’s daily conversational acrobatics, or the signature Proud Mary blend he used to prepare loyally. With all his equipment ready, beans one call away and a large space already sorted, it was a long and painful process of solving a million small problems before Churchkey could open. The building, smack-bang in the middle of a collection of bridal stores near Auckland Street, was designed in the 70’s for FAI insurance, and bought by the Tarren family some thirty years later. Owned by his mother, the site was used as the student-run gallery space Rocket Art for several years, and after a brief stint as another bridal store, remained unoccupied for a long while, waiting for Churchkey to be born. The lighting, high ceiling and white walls in the building make the previous gallery presence obvious, and it’s not surprising that Churchkey is being used as both a café and exhibition space.

Nick made it very clear that there would be outdoor seating and a dedicated dining area in the front, but no seats in the building’s gallery space, so as to not de-value the art or the gallery aesthetic. People don’t go to a gallery to drink coffee, and they don’t go to a café to look at art! The walls currently contain an exhibition from local artist Von Rox, and have already been booked in advanced by several other artists, such as printmaker Michael Phelps and my loveable gang of misfits at The Roost Creative. Nick is excited to have more installations and sculptures in the exhibition area, because there is so much space to do so, and I couldn’t be more enthusiastic to get involved. As a curator of art events in the past, I can confirm that it’s a great space for shows, and will likely be getting a lot of attention in that scene very soon!

Though Churchkey, and the Pistol Club before it, have always been deeply rooted in other areas of culture, (made evident in the gallery space) what set them apart from other cafes I’ve been involved with is a genuine, down-to-earth passion and interest in everything to do with coffee – an irremovable side effect of Nick’s exposure to the Melbourne scene. Churchkey’s signage makes it clear that they use Pony Blend beans, a special product of Melbourne roastery Clement Coffee, pioneered by Chris Wood, a close friend of Nick’s who he met on his travels. Chris was also involved in Proud Mary, the blend used at the Pistol Club, which was the sole reason for me being the borderline coffee snob I am today. Nick has plans to extend his coffee-nerdery from specialty blends to industry talks held in the space regularly, beginning in a few months with Matt Perger, two-year Australian barista champion. From what he’s described to me about upcoming events and uses for the space to spread knowledge and enthusiasm to the Newcastle coffee community, I think Churchkey’s future fits very well with the for-us-by-us ethic started with Nick’s free barista lessons at Conroy Bradley.

Every morning I see new customers discovering Churchkey from across the street, shocked to see it up and running after the shopfront remained unoccupied for so long. Three weeks after a quiet opening, word is spreading and people are starting to notice how delicious everything there is, and how hilarious and interesting a person Nick Tarren is. He’s told me before that he finds it natural to want to turn every new person he meets into a friend, and if you end up anywhere near 488 Hunter Street any time soon, it won’t be difficult to see why.