Friday, 11 March 2016

Laura Mardon - Issue 8

Laura Mardon (Albion Gold)

They say first impressions last. That was definitely the case when I first saw Albion Gold a few years ago at Fat Louie’s in Brisbane. I was excited to see them after hearing a lot of buzz about this new band from the beaches of the nearby Gold Coast. The band put on a fiery set, especially the performance of their singer. It was in your face, passionate,  and heartfelt. The type of performance that can make you feel scared and engrossed all at once. Everything that’s great about punk rock. It had real power to it.  When I saw that Laura was also selling zines along with the band’s EP I was compelled to go up for a quick chat. Since then I’ve been meaning to interview Laura for the zine and finally got the chance to talk to her about the Gold Coast punk community, DIY, her work as an artist, and combining punk rock and parenthood…

How did Albion Gold come to be?

had moved over for about 6 months from the UK and being in London and moved to the Gold Coast. I found it really isolating and I was a new mum. Tilly was just under a year old and you kinda lose that sense of your personal self as you’re ‘ok focus I’m a mum now’ and then you think ‘hang on I was this whole other person’. Looking back I thought ‘what did I use to do?’. I wanted to play music, and I had been in bands back in the UK and had played solo before, so I looked in the back of the ‘Time Off’ (local street press) I was playing guitar and didn’t think about doing any vocals.

And you found the rest of the band through the ad?

They had placed an ad looking for a female vocalist but for an alternative band but I think they had indie (sound) more in mind…

…ahh, so you forced them towards the punk side of things?

I blame that on Pat (laughs)! I sent them over a little vocal sample, I think I did PJ Harvey, completely offbeat and away from where we are now (musically). So I went down to the rehearsal studio, they had been a band before with a previous singer who had left, and they were playing these songs and I sat down and listened to them.

That’s cool, I often hear from friends who try out for bands and nothing comes from it, so it’s good to hear a story where it did work and you defined your own sound together too.

Yeah, apart from some really early (Albion Gold) songs…I think ‘Dresden’ may have been in some sort of bastardize version, now it’s a completely song…I guess it was the best of a bad bunch (of songs)

You moved here from the UK, what was that transition like?  Did your music help? Much of a culture shock?

Yeah, I grew up in Camden, on the Loch, I was about 2 minutes from Camden Loch, and always lived near London. It’s a mixed and diverse place. Kentish Town is a real big mix of people from all ethnicities. I was always that person growing up who was ‘I don’t need to leave London’. There’s so much going on, you can go one bar over and it’s a completely different place. I didn’t really leave London to even go to other parts of the UK.

Then suddenly you made a jump from that to the other side of the world? (laughs)

(laughs) yeah, it was pretty epic. I was working and met my now husband Mark while he was traveling. He moved into our place in London Bridge at the time.

I’m curious as to your view coming from the UK I find Australian punk has a particularly macho streak to it? Bit of a pub vibe to a lot of it. How do they compare? What have your experiences been like?

In the UK, towards the end, it was more the folk-punk kinda stuff. Bands like One Night Stand in North Dakota, not sure if you heard them, amazing duo. Two guys. Singing these amazing political, feminist songs and really nice dynamic to them. They would play looking in towards each other. We would play in bookshops, socialist bookshops, and it was all welcoming. You never really thought about the male to female ratio in attendance. Where I’m a little more aware of it here. I think the way pubs work here is a little different. In the the UK It’s more like this (the pub where the interview is taking place) where its a tavern. I really like Brisbane. We play Brisbane mostly over the Gold Coast. It’s not that we go out trying to prove anything because we have a female vocalist or anything. It’s a different crowd. One or two things where I did have to walk away was watching Ceremony, one of the support bands was real macho…good on him he loves Australian hardcore but calling the crowd ‘faggots’….and something happening at Limp Wrist as well. It’s just ignorance. There are scenes like that in the UK as well. I guess it’s the scenes you want to partake in and what you find.

The band seems to do most of it’s shows in Brisbane, is that out of necessity? Any differences with Gold Coast crowds compared to city ones despite the relatively small geographical difference?

I think it’s because the Gold Coast is so spread out. I think a city works like a stereo. You have bass and everything pushes out from there. You have the pulse and the treble pushes out. The Gold Coast is analog. There’s no point in it where something flickers or there’s a buzz. There’s no…unless you’re talking about Surfers (Paradise- a sleazy Gold Coast tourist hub) which I don’t know (laughs)

You’re right, there’s no starting point or central hub that people can tie into…

…in my personal opinion. Someone might read this and say ‘that’s ridiculous! It’s here!’

…’It is Surfers Paradise!’ (laughs)

(laughs) So I guess the way shows works is a bit different. You couldn’t just say ‘oh look there’s a show on tonight! Let’s go out to Central’. You go to the show because the show is on…

….you wouldn’t go out to something else as there’s a show on?

That’s how I find it.

I’m pretty ignorant about what’s going on in the Gold Coast. You might hear about a band having a show there or an international touring band adding a Gold Coast date occasionally but usually it’s the Fat Wreck Chords/Skate punk bands as they know they have an audience on the Gold Coast…

…yeah it is those kinds of bands. Pop punk never died on the Gold Coast, its amazing!

I guess the culture is still there. All the surf videos, all those guys have stayed at the beach and now are 40 and still going to shows. I like those bands by the way, but I was curious if there are other things happening, if there are budding scenes in the Gold Coast?

It’s growing, I think there’s always going to be a struggle to find a space open to let these shows continue. You’ve got bands like the Lost Cause that have been playing on the Gold Coast for a while, and there’s Bitter Lungs. There cool, real good hardcore. Toby has this real sick voice. His voice is so constant. I know I get puffed out. We played a show the other day, we hadn’t played in ages and the last two songs I was like ‘my voice is about to blow’. I’m so jealous when I watch him. He’s got this power to him, the way he moves through the crowd. Floor shows work well for them.

What venues? Is it easy to book a show? Is it a struggle to get a foot in the door?

It’s one of those things, like in any regional place there’s only so many shows you can play. There’s only so many people…we can play 3 shows over 2 months and you’ll get a few people to the first show and then not as many.

Have you ever considered relocating to Brisbane as a band? To be closer to more venues? Or you can’t give up the beach lifestyle?

I don’t know, the guys have been on the Coast for a while. I think if anything they would move to Melbourne. They went down for the Poison City Weekender (run by Poison City Records, think The Fest) and were just buzzing when they came back. I was like ‘Let’s just move to London instead!’ (laughs)

I was going to ask what you miss from the UK? From home? That you don’t find here in Australia whether music or otherwise?

Cheap 7inches! (laughs)

To press or to buy?

Both. We’re going to put out some stuff later this year and I think it actually will work out cheaper if it gets pressed abroad and then shipped over.

I’ve heard that. I’ve also heard the pressing plants here in Australia aren’t very good quality and that’s it’s often worth people’s while to go overseas just for a better quality product.

It’s that point that you want to get the best quality but I don’t want to charge people $30 or $25 for a 12inch from us. I never ever gone out, or needed, to make a profit from playing music or doing anything with zines, DIY or craft based. Are CDs are always $2 and our tapes are $4. They cost $3 to buy in and the by the time we do the photocopying for the cost of the covers and stuff it works out. I can’t do it! (laughs) I can’t bring myself to ask people for that kind of money

What’s the toughest aspect of making a band viable these days? With costs, fuel, shipping records etc.   What would make that easier?

It’s a tough one I guess. There’s always that thing you have to ask yourself before playing shows- ‘How much do I want to do this?’ as you’re always going to lose money on it. If you have an independent record label you’re probably going to lose money. You know what it’s like, you make a zine.

Yeah I lose money every time I mail one.

Yeah, but you do it cause you love it. You want that outlet. I have this real knot in myself about being in Australia and being in London and I can write these quite personal songs and play them fast and run around and expend, expel that energy. That’s why I do it. I don’t care if I lose money, its way cheaper than a therapist (laughs). I can get it all out. The rest of the band is like having a family. Not in that clichéd, hardcore brotherhood crew way.

You have that sense of a support network and friendships that make it worthwhile.

Yeah and I guess for me with the band is meeting people who are like minded.

You have a little record label- Aunty Pat Records? Is that purely just a home to put all your music out under? Do you have any bigger plans?

Initially it was just somewhere to put all our stuff. When we first started we played for 4 to 6 weeks and we had written 6 songs. We recorded them and they’re awful and way slow, I had an ear infection at the time and couldn’t hear well at the time. I can’t listen to it at all. But we got them out. It was also tied into at the same time as Ceremony came out so we just wanted some demos to hand out at shows- ‘Looks we’re here! There’s a new band’. So we did that and I do solo stuff as well so it just felt like a natural place. I always knew that being with the band you just don’t go on stage and go off stage. I love everything, artwork, watching every band we play with. I’ve found so many bands since we started playing. It’s cool. I always wanted more of that, like a zine distro. There are a lot of zines around Australia but if you’re not in Sydney or Melbourne, for me just in Brisbane, it can be a bit tricky.

It can be hard to find as there’s no one place in Brisbane for people to go to.

I’m always awkward and stuff. I hate being that person where people are ‘That was an awesome show!’ and I’m ‘yeah (stop staring at your shoes!)’. I look at my shoes all day.

So you can instead say ‘look I’ve got this stuff here for sale!’

Yeah, I’ve got friends doing all sorts of stuff in the UK and to bring that connection. So with Aunty Pat I wanted it to be a gateway to maybe getting some stuff over from the UK as well. But its just sat a bit dormant (laughs)

I was curious about that as even on the label bio you mention that you only do CDRs, small run. Is it made to order or do you actually have stock? Do you control your costs by burning the records when needed?

At first I tried to 50 of each (title) then I could do 50 on the photocopying and it’s a little cheaper than 20, you know? But then I was I’m not going to replenish the first EP as I don’t like listening to it myself (laughs). Now it’s as and when. I sit and literally press record on the all the tapes and stuff.

You are also an artist. Can you talk a little about the art you make?

I guess I didn’t realise how fussy I was about artwork for the band.  So I’ve taken the reins on that one. But if there is a band whose stuff I like I’ll send them some art and if they’re ‘that’s cool’ or if they’re polite they might be ‘mmm maybe something else’. But like music is was an outlet I didn’t realise I needed until I stopped doing it. Kinda had that slight breakdown and I feel horrible when I don’t do it.

Do you have a medium you like working in? Or do you prefer mixing it up?

I can’t sit still. My husband hates it. He’s like ‘what are you doing?’ and I’m ‘just sewing’. He’s ‘I thought you were painting yesterday?’. You focus on that thing and it makes you happy. It’s immediate gratification…

…making something? Being creative?

Yeah, I really like the process of screen printing. It’s the one thing I can focus on. With painting you can just go with it, I’m pretty messy and get paint everywhere. Where with screen printing I know if I mess it up it’s going to go wrong.

Do you try and keep your art and music somewhat separate or do you consider your art and music as natural extensions of each other?

I’ve done some freelance work for bands in the UK. I do the art work for the ‘Fuck The System DIY’ nights. I do screen printing with Lauren (from Fuck The System). Sometimes the band stuff is just the band stuff. I try and do stuff that wouldn’t be in my comfort zone. I prefer to use photography and more photoshop aspect for the band stuff.

So you do other forms and techniques for other projects?

Yeah, a lot of the other stuff is painting and drawing.

What came first? Music or art?

I started playing bass at first and you want to grow up (to be in a band) I bought a Sex Pistols tape and thought ‘this is so cool!’ along with some smaller UK indie bands as well. Then you start going along to gigs and you see that and say ‘I want that! That’s really cool, I want to do that!’. I never had that inclination when I went to a gallery.

Art can be more intimidating. That ties back into why people are attracted to punk especially, the egalitarian nature of it- ‘I can do that’. Where say the screen prints you brought along today I see those and think ‘I can never do that!’. With music it feels more accessible.

I went to art school as well. It can be quite intimidating and it does cost money. With punk it’s more DIY, you learn as you go. You learn to put shows on or you learn how to play a chord because you need to play that chord. I enjoy that ethos, that whole DIY thing, you don’t want it to sound shit but it’s the best you can do at the time.

The label, your art, the shows you perform at, all are based around that DIY spirit. What’s that sense of self-empowerment, that sense of self-reliance meant to you?

It’s probably the only time I’m self-motivated (laughs). It’s that thing for me, no one else is going to go out and put out an Albion Gold CD. No one owes me anything for doing that. If they don’t want to do it, they don’t want to do it but if I want to put out a CD why am I not the one to make the first move? I can. Everyone has a computer these days, a Mac with Garageband on it. We use Sing Star mics to record everything because you can pick them up at the op shop cheap. It grows from there. We record everything in our basement because we don’t have to rent our basement.  You put these small things together and it grows. I like that idea you don’t need to have money, you don’t need to know anyone. You can sit in a bedroom on your own and make music.

That’s what I’ve enjoyed about DIY, it builds your confidence. You discover a sense of self, you realise what you can do. If you’re just passively consuming, at least I wouldn’t, have that same sense of self. It’s always good to find other people like that. Switching to music Albion Gold has somewhat topical or political aspects to it, what shaped your views you have today?

(Laura’s daughter announces that it’s Christmas much to the amusement of all at the bar)
(Laughing) Sometimes what I find hard, with any kind of show, not just in the punk scene. Though in the punk scene you have this group…you don’t fit anywhere else. Pop music never worked for me. Neither did hip hop or RnB, then you find this group of people who don’t fit in either. WE don’t have all this production stuff. It grew from there. Then on the other side it can be real elitist. ‘Wait a minute? I thought we were all in this together?’ So with the punk thing I would often feel alienated. I would think ‘I don’t want to do that, or wear that the whole time.’ You don’t usually wear a Belle and Sebastian shirt to an anarcho (punk) show. But I want to do both. I can fit into both. There’s a welcome and isolation at the same time. Which I’ve grappled with myself.

I think everyone does. I’ve had that myself, there’s multiple paradoxes in punk. I don’t go to a lot of shows as I don’t feel like I fit in with the crowds, especially in Brisbane or Australian crowds. It’s a bit more a bonding, mateship thing, rather than a sense of weirdo outsiders finding refuge together. I think it’s a tension everyone experiences…

…maybe we should talk about it more with each other when we go to shows.

That’s right. The other weekend I was talking with others about some of those tensions. You feel like you belong, but you feel there is an elitism and hierarchy in it sometimes. It’s a hard one to navigate.

Definitely. In the UK, there was a small core, queer-core, really open group. The shows there were real cool.

I guess that’s the good and bad thing about punk those things are often fleeting. They appear and are great but disappear when people move on. It often happens with leftist politics too. No one leaves any infrastructure behind. Everyone has to reinvent the wheel.
You’re a mother. That would be an insight not many people in current hardcore punk bands perhaps have. Do you bring those experiences to your song writing or performance at all? Do the two have a connection at all for you?

I never really thought about it actually. It’s the kinda thing like Amy and Cam in the band, they have a child as well. She’s 13. I don’t know…at one point you’re doing responsible parenting but you have to have that disconnection. You get in the car, then suddenly you’re in this band.

So you try and separate the two?

I try to. It’s that kind of thing, we’ve taken Tilly to some shows. Punk should be welcoming to under-18s too. The first show we took Tilly to was at Brew Brothers. We opened the door to the venue and the girl on the door her face just changed. She was fine, she had headphones on.

How do you reconcile being a punk and being a mother? There was the recent documentary about punk rock dads but in our society motherhood is harder to shirk, carries bigger burdens whether wanted or not. Punk is supposed to be rebellious. How have you dealt with such things?

I guess my views have softened towards things and then in other ways they may have toughened up more. I’m aware of different things. I still try and keep living towards, not solely, by a DIY ethos. For me personally it doesn’t work.

You’re not weaving your own nappies.

No, I’m not saying ‘let’s move into that abandoned building’. But it does work for some people. What I’ve learnt is go with what works for you. It doesn’t matter if you start doing something that’s a little off in what’s considered ‘punk’ or what’s considered a ‘mother’ or ‘parent’. Just take it, as both are really hard to do! (laughs). It’s really hard. Both are hard work.

How do you manage your music, your art, the label and you’re a parent? You seem to have a lot going on. It seems most bands don’t like going to practice on the best of days so it must be hard to be bothered with practice or illustrate when you’re sleep deprived or have a sick child in bed?

It sucks. It goes back to that instant whatever is right in front of me if I can focus on that until it’s nearly completed I can go back and complete it later. Except with Tilly, that’s my main priority. At the end of the day if she’s not hurt or damaged, if she’s fed and happy, then I can do everything else. Kinda like the eye of the storm, it’s calm and everything else is whirling around (laughs)

Hardcore punk is about aggression. How do you approach your performances that require such energy? You have a very strong stage presence during a performance. Do you need to get into a particularly mental space, summon that energy?

I have a rare auto-immune disease, I’m riddled with illness. I take a lot of medication. (Performing) is that release, this is the one thing I’m allowed to do. This is it. It doesn’t matter about my arthritis, which is in about every joint of my body, I can do this (perform), this is my 20 minutes. I’m lucky we’re not anything else but a hardcore band…

I was going to say, lucky no 80 minute Free Bird type thing….

…no prog rock. The focus is I can do this for now and then pay the price after. I’ll take the throat infection for the next four days (after a gig). I’ll up my steroid medication.

Is living in Australia helpful then as it takes long enough getting from city to city in a van that you recovered. If you lived anywhere else you might have more back to back shows.

It’s that kind of thing, for this year, we’re trying to go back to one show a month as my body can’t physically take it. Which is a shame. I’d love to do more shows. I think we did 6 shows in a month and one was on the Coast and the rest were in Brisbane. It was around the time we played (Brisbane venue) Fat Louie’s. That show, I got told off by my mum. I jumped off a sofa and my knees got huge. So I’ve had to take a step back, we’ve had to cancel shows when I’ve been in hospital…

That’s pretty full on

The rest of the band are real understanding. Amy, who’s only ever played shows with Albion Gold, she’s never been in another band, is understanding. The guys are understanding. Most promoters are pretty understanding to a point.

Do you ever notice or reflect on how your live performance is received by men in the audience? How to do they react to a strong, aggressive women in control of the space?

I like writing, I like writing the songs. The lyrics are quite personal, introspected. We’re socially aware as a band, but I think the lyrics don’t reflect that as much as how we as a band or I are feeling. I taken it as a push to get across what I’m doing. Sometimes the songs are so personal I have to break away from that. Sometimes I do pick people out of the crowd and stare at them for as long as I can. Try and stare through them.

I did notice that. It seems you do like going out amongst the crowd and engaging them. Which is why I asked if that was a political act, a feminist action? But it seems it’s more you taking that focus from inwards and putting it outwards?

I never go out of my way to try and push the fact of being female on anyone. Just as I would never want anyone to push the fact they were male on to me. It’s just who you are. If your mind matches your body then well done, you’re very lucky. But there is that divide there and you just try and go with it. I just try and make it as much a part of the song as it can be.

So it’s more how you’re feeling in the song and expressing that?

Yeah, at the same time it’s a part of that ‘wait a minute, I don’t have to do anything responsible for the next 26 minutes’, which is our set. I can be this person and it’s this cool thing but then you come off stage and you think ‘wait a minute, I didn’t just put that on, that’s who I am all the time’ I just have to limit that because it takes a lot of energy, I get sick and you can’t do that with a 2-year old hanging around. It’s not appropriate. It’s more of an outlet of who I am, opposed to putting on a face for it. It’s always happened even at our first shows and stuff. In that kind of contradictory way where I feel quite introverted and self-aware of who I am and fitting in especially moving to the other side of the world. You have to make friends again! Who makes friends at 27, 28, 29, I forget how old I am, you think ‘maybe if I put it all out there then maybe someone will like that and so maybe two weeks later they don’t have to find out about a certain part of me they don’t like.’

It’s a space you can create where you can say this is everything and anything that is part of me and you like it or lump it?

More than anything, people get the impression…we’ve given the impression that we’re a very serious PC band. People thing we’re uber-politically correct. I have not been aware that we are or have been. We’ve pulled out of shows where someone mentioned they were going to be playing (neo-nazi band) Skrewdriver covers. We’re not going to be part of that. I’m not tolerant of it. Lyrically or musically we don’t go out of our way to want to be a riot grrrl band. Or to be the ‘female-fronted’ hardcore band. It just happens.

I guess it’s a few things. My take on it, if its all coming from who you are and your viewpoints, even if the songs a personal I think people pick up on the worldviews presented. Even very personal lyrics can have a certain framing. It’s tinged with it, it’s part of the makeup of the band. The other side I was going to ask, as I talked last weekend with Erica about this was whether the term ‘female-fronted’ was a blessing or a curse?

It’s a difficult one. Sometimes it makes me uncomfortable as I have to point out that this characteristic I’m defined by I had no choice in. It’s the outward manifestation is how others are defining me. It’s who I am, but I’m quite self-aware of using the term. I guess as well it depends on your views on gender, sexuality and the fluidity and how binary you think these things are. It can be a term of empowerment for some but for me it can make me feel quite uncomfortable. We do use it, or people have used it for us and I don’t mind that at all. You never want to define a band by one thing but it can’t be helped.

I  find with topics of gender sometimes it’s like pulling the thread of a rug and it keeps unravelling and you’re not sure when to stop, it’s often hard to wrap my head around. You often read reviews and the very first sentence is ‘female-fronted’ and I wonder if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. It highlights the normality of male-domination but the flip side is it’s also reinforcing notions that this band is unique due to its gender make up and not it’s music.

Sometimes we get likened to bands in reviews and I think ‘I don’t think we do’. I think people are just pulling it out of the air as that’s another female fronted band perhaps. Vocally I’m listening to a lot of these bands and its kind of off-kilter, I’m listening to a song, and think ‘These don’t sound like Pat’s riffs at all!’. I guess I’ve never considered ourselves a politically correct band but we do use the term ‘mixed-gender’ a lot it takes the spotlight off the ‘female-fronted’. It’s more ‘this is what it is’ a group of people that randomly met through a newspaper.

With the political stuff, you mention on your facebook that you’re anti-fascist, and to keep the ‘macho bullshit’ at home. You use the term ‘feminism’. I guess those things people see and people automatically assume about the music. Using such terms I was curious about your view on it. There seems to be a counter-reaction against the term ‘feminism’ in mainstream culture. That the concept is antiquated to some. How do you view the term? Why do you think some women resist or reject the term?

That description came out as I was really pissed at the response we got from a promoter about pulling out from that show. I didn’t want to play a show with these people (Skrewdriver cover bands) I don’t want to play with people who go out and buy records, regardless which era of Skrewdriver, if you’re accepting of a band that let a singer sing those kind of songs there’s some part of them that was tolerant towards it. Regardless of whether they felt politics should be a part of music or not. There’s that great discussion of whether politics should be a part of music or not? Whether it’s in the music, it’s definitely in the scene, and that’s what’s important. I don’t believe I have to share a stage with that. You have the ability of who you spend your time with. The description was about, I don’t want to be around a group of people that look at the band that’s novelty act. I wanted to get something up there to be ‘look I just want to make it clear’

Define the boundaries of who you wanted to play with and be comfortable with.

When we first started we put some badges out that said ‘I don’t need to get my tits out to have a good time’ and that was a reaction to Surfers (Paradise). The other badge I wanted to make was ‘But I can if I want to’ (laughs) but we never got around to it.

I saw the band had shirts rejecting slut shaming and being pro-choice and not necessarily anti-sex. It’s more about self-empowerment

Which is kinda of how I see feminism. It’s just an empowerment and equality. For me I’m never going to take a radical stance and put myself above anyone. I think everyone should be free to do what they want to. Especially at the minute there’s a big thing in feminism at the moment about being completely unaccepting towards trans-women which I think is absolutely disgusting. It’s an inclusive thing and it kind of how I see punk and that kinda of community that should be all inclusive and all accepting. So when you get silly things like ‘you wear that shirt, you’re on that side of punk, you go in that box’ it shouldn’t be like that. It’s just who they are, or who you are. You don’t ignore it but it’s just what it is.

The zine is called Wasted Opportunities and I was ask if you can share a memorable time you let one go to waste? Or if not, if there was a time when you were ‘wasted’ (whatever that might be) and it created an opportunity to come your way you didn’t see coming?

(laughs) there’s so many. I use to get drunk a lot…I don’t drink anymore but….it comes back to interviewing people. For zines. There’s always that moment after where you ‘if only I asked that!’ and then think about it for the next 3 weeks.

That’s why I ask, it took me till 28, 29 to do it myself, make a zine. I look back at those years as a Wasted Opportunities, that’s where the question comes from.

Last year I got to hang out Joey Cape and I just spent 3 hours talking with the guy and I didn’t have anything there (to interview him with) I guess it’s that thing about being younger. Not wasting an opportunity but just being naïve, looking back in hindsight ‘if I only had known to do this…’