Total Giovanni: Changing The Game By Being Themselves

I cannot rave enough about how strong our local music scene is in Australia at the moment. Every time I find myself thinking it couldn’t possibly strive anymore than it is, I discover another artist that proves me wrong. One such act is five piece nu-disco band Total Giovanni. I’ve been watching them closely since they were booked for Paradise festival last year and were working with the now over Two Bright Lakes crew, and they quickly boogied their way into my heart to become one of my favourite Australian bands. I think the thing I love most about them, having not seen them perform yet, is the reactions I hear from friends and fans who have been privy to their live show. Describing it as an almost hedonistic love fest, Total Giovanni give as much as they physically can to each and every show, so it’s no surprise at all that they have garnered themselves quite the following indeed.

Delivering one of the most raved about sets at this year’s Golden Plains, it wasn’t until they announced their first East Coast tour, booking in a show in Wollongong, Sydney and their hometown of Melbourne that perhaps things started to sink in for them just how much people are getting on board; having sold out not one, not two or even three shows at Melbourne’s Gasometer Hotel, but FOUR shows. They will also be appearing in a slightly altered but hopefully just as wild DJ set for Groovin’ The Moo in Bendigo, as well as Splendour In The Grass.

Their love for each other and what they do is a testament to what it’s like to be in a band – they’re just five best mates having a ball on stage, but it’s what they represent that makes them one of the most exciting acts in the country at the moment. It’s more than just a nostalgia revival. It’s a movement to be yourself, to connect with your audience in a way that everyone realises they’re all in it together, and it’s an attempt to free yourself from inhibitions – even if it is only for an hour.

I had the privilege to chat to frontman and cool guy Vachel Spirason recently, about potential body rolling workshops, what it should mean to be masculine in Australia, and his thoughts on the need for music festivals. You can catch their tour dates below, which will no doubt be the one of the last few times you can see them in such a small and intimate setting. Embrace the experience. Embrace Total Giovanni.

Hey Vachel! How’s it going?

Yeah pretty good, pretty good. A little bit busy trying to balance everything that’s happening in these coming weeks, but also all this personal stuff like moving house! It’s a bit boring.

All those extra fun things as well, right? I just wanted to say first of all – congratulations! You guys have had a massive few weeks!

Yes, it’s been so exciting. So unexpected, but very exciting and now as a result there is lots of last minute hard work to make it all happen!

I bet! Not only have you signed to Remote Control and Dot/Dash, but you’ve had FOUR shows sold out in Melbourne for your upcoming tour?! How crazy is that for you? Are you losing your mind a little bit right now?

Yeah, totally! We’re a little mystified by it. It’s been quite surreal and out of no where. We had no idea there would be that much enthusiasm and demand for the shows, which is lovely. We’re very pleased and excited to be playing shows for people and that people want to come and see us again. I think it happened like that in Melbourne from our Golden Plains show, which was such a beautiful time, and that energy has lead to this. It’s really great that people are excited and telling their friends and bringing them along! I’m guessing that’s how it happened…

Well, playing Golden Plains is again so massive for you guys. How was that, happening so early on in your being a band? Three singles out and you’re already playing Golden Plains!

Well that was before we had even released the single, which is even crazier. There was a lot of good faith from the people at Golden Plains in us. We have always gone to that festival, it’s a really special place for us and we have beautiful memories from being in the crowd there and performances from all our favourite bands. Playing there was an honour, and really special for us, but to play there and have the crowd responding in the way they did was so, so beautiful and such a life highlight. I’m going to put that right up there as a life highlight. It’s going to be really hard to top that; when you think about it it’s like, you get to play this show which is the biggest show you’ve ever played at by far, but not only just to play it but for people to give you a lot of love back – it was really special.

Well now you’re booked in for Groovin’ The Moo in Bendigo and at Splendour, but they’re both DJ sets. How will the two shows compare? 

Well it won’t be quite as over the top as I would imagine. There won’t be all five of us. Even before the band we all used to DJ together and record collect together, which actually lead to the band in some ways, so it’s a lot of fun to get back behind the decks and play tunes for people. It’ll be a really fun time, they’re both such cool festivals. It’ll still be a bit of a spectacle I think though, we don’t do anything by half measures so we’ll still be trying to bring some mojo to the whole experience and get people moving and keep them moving. That’s the whole idea.

Going back to your live show for a second, I’m dying to see you guys live. I’ve had friends tell me how great it is and you guys aren’t coming to Brisbane for your supposed “East Coast” tour! It’s not East Coast without Brisbane!

I know, I’m so sorry! We’re very sorry to everyone in Brisbane, but we’re just so poor! This is before we sold out the shows and stuff, and we just underestimated how much interest there was, which is really sweet but I feel bad for doing an East Coast tour when we’re not really going that far up the coast. We will get to Brisbane though!

I’ll hold you to that!

Yes, please!

You’re known for your performance factor, and the energy you bring to your shows. You have also spoken about how being in a band is like being in a gang, and that’s how you front – why is that so important for you? Why is it such a pivotal part of the band?

Because I’m in a band with my four best mates and you gotta stick up for ’em! *laughs* Look, you know, you’ve got people’s attention! You’re playing in a room full of people, in a band – why not do something interesting with that? I’m not having a go at anyone who doesn’t jump around or wear costumes, because a lot of people probably think we’re dickheads and that’s fine! It’s not for everyone! This isn’t something we’re trying to portray or get people’s attention; this is just how we are. If you go to a house party, chances are you’ll see Jules body rolling with not many clothes on. That’s just how he’s always been, so it’s just kind of funny to get the attention this way through this spectacle because we’re kind of doing it for our own amusement as well as everyone else. That’s how the band started – we were just having a fun time, and now it’s gone from our friends to our friends’ friends to the wider public, which is very cool but also quite funny. If it’s something you believe in, like the music or the possibility of what the music can do if you’re gathering to participate, you can just see what happens and we’re just trying to get people in that zone.

I read in a separate interview that you were about “setting Australian masculinity free” – can you tell me a little bit more about that, because you’re a kind of different masculinity to just flexing your muscles or things like that, you’re into making love and dancing as well!

I think it’s really important to us, and really important to me personally. We have a really blocked up understanding of masculinity in this country. That kind of macho stuff like men can’t cry or be physically affectionate with each other even just in a friendly way like hug each other or hold hands or give each other a kiss on the cheek… Those are all things I do with my guy friends, but I’m also still incredibly sore because I played a massive game of football on the weekend. I still love footy and all those other things, you can still participate in that as well. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. I grew up playing football, but also taking dances classes, and those things are mutually incompatible. I had to not tell people because I knew I’d cop shit from it. That’s dumb! That’s so dumb! You can’t do dancing because you’re a sissy or you’re gay, I think the sooner we get rid of that the better. It allows so much more room for people just to be themselves, whatever that is and there is no right or wrong when it comes to any of that stuff especially when it comes to gender or sexuality or sexual identity. The more space we give people to do what is naturally inside of them, the better society will be. People won’t be hanging around with that tension and that negativity energy.

I love that so much. I love that you’re challenging these ideals, and it’s obviously working because you’re doing so well! People are obviously paying attention!

Yeah, I think so too. I think it’s really great and that’s why people have responded so well to our live show. I think people like seeing a bunch of guys who don’t care jumping and moving around. Being sexual and sensual too but, you know, being silly too. We’re not taking ourselves super seriously when we’re doing any of that, which I think is important because sexy doesn’t have to be heavy. The way that pop music is sold to people these days is hyper-sexualised and hyper-aggressive, so I think that’s one aspect of why people come to see us – because they want to see Jules body rolling. And I love to see Jules body rolling too. I would pay 10 bucks to see that!

Maybe Jules could have a separate body rolling workshop?

We’ve talked about that actually, about hiring him out for birthday parties!

He could even have a support slot at your shows, and workshop it before the gig!

*laughs* That’s a good idea actually! There might be something in that…

You can have that idea, I’ll give it to you!

Thank you, that’s so kind of you!

One of the most important things that I’ve taken away from following you guys and reading about the whole experience is that you’re encouraging people to let go and get into it just as much as you do, and feeling safe in that performance space, so that’s clearly very important for you as well?

Completely! I mean, they have a music festival almost every weekend these days, and the reason people keep going to these things is because we don’t have enough space in our normal daily grind life to actually be ourselves. Most people work and that involves being a shit version of themselves. When you go to work every day, you’re pretending and that’s unfortunate, but that’s the reality of the 9 to 5 existence. As a result, people have a lot of pent up energy! They need a space that they can let it out. It should be more important than just letting people who work 9 to 5 feel good about themselves for an hour at a time, because there is something beyond that that can and should be taking place which is that, with a dancefloor and people coming together to sing and dance in whatever combination, it bridges all those gaps, you know? These are the people you might abuse in traffic, or be frustrated with or judge because they’re wearing different clothes to you. But at a music festival or at a club or a gig where everyone is jumping up and down together at the same time, you forget all about that and that’s really important. That’s part of it too.

One of the things that would help you as a band and in your performances is that you are so close, and you can kind of feed of each other in a separate way, is that right?

Completely. Even when we play a show where there isn’t much of a vibe or we aren’t getting a lot of love from the audience, we are still having a great time. We’re just smiling the whole time, and vibing off each other, and I think people can see that. We definitely have an internal vibe.

You’ve been together for quite some time prior to the release of your singles last year, can you tell me a bit about that time? 

Yeah, we have been gigging and writing and playing as a jam band for a year before we played a gig, and that was just because we liked hanging out! We smoked a lot of weed, and we drank a lot of booze and we ate a lot of pizza! We used to go to this rehearsal space/studio which sadly no longer exists around the corner from us, and we would go there every week and play, and play for the love of playing. I think if that’s you’re starting point, you’re in a really good way because at the core of it is that you’re really enjoying it. When you’re playing together and you’ve got a really good thing going, it becomes bigger than all of you and it carries you all. It’s the same thing like why people play team sport and stuff, you feel like you’re a part of something bigger that’s going on.

And those people become your family after a while. 

Yeah! It helps that we’re such good mates because we help each other navigate all this stuff that’s happening now which is very new still.

By extension from the band, you were also part of the Two Bright Lakes family as well – that would have been another great support network for you guys?

We’ve been friends with those guys from way, way back and a lot of those artists from that roster… The label was kind of secondary to the support network we had with them as a circle of friends, if that makes sense. Knowing Martha [Brown aka Banoffee] and Hazel [Brown from Otouto]  and a lot of the artists that have been on that label in different ways over a number of years, it definitely is that family but the family aspect almost takes over the label aspect in a way. It predates our inclusion of the label anyway, we’ve been a part of that community for a lot longer than we’ve been a band.

Amazing! It would have been great, especially when you were finding your feet, to have that there. 

Yeah! It’s very artist focussed and they’re old mates. When we started playing they said they’d love to put our stuff out, and it was a great fit because no one was trying to make you do something you didn’t want to do, they were just giving us a platform to give our music to the world. It’s a shame they finished up, so we were forced to find someone else to put the other two singles out which is where Remote Control came in, and they were super lovely for doing that. Two Bright Lakes made it so easy for you because they weren’t doing anything except helping you get your music out, which is a very noble thing to do and also very risky in that industry. Most labels are coming at it with an eye on other things as well.

That’s beautiful. It’s sad to see it end but the effect they had on the artists is clearly very evident!

Yeah and I think they wouldn’t have had such interesting and experimental stuff if there wasn’t that environment. A lot of those artists like Banoffee to Oscar Key Sung, the kind of styles I’ve seen them play over the years have evolved hugely. The fact that there was that platform there that allowed for the artists to diversify, and now they’ve got massive profiles, if it wasn’t for that environment they wouldn’t have been able to get to that point.

Looking forward now, what else can we expect to come for this year?

Well after the East Coast tour – obviously not to Brisbane, but Melbourne, Sydney and Wollongong *laughs* – once we’ve done all these gigs we’re having a break from performing for a few months. It’ll be really great to sit down and focus on writing again. We’ve got a whole bunch of new songs which we need to record, and then we’ll have an EP or an album depending on how much we get done ready around springtime! Then summer will be about getting that new stuff out there!

Awesome, I can’t wait!

Total Giovanni tour dates:

Parkside @ Waves, Wollongong VIC
Tickets on sale now

Goodgod Small Club, Sydney, NSW
Tickets on sale now

Groovin’ The Moo (DJ Set), Bendigo, VIC

Gasometer, Melbourne, VIC

Gasometer, Melbourne, VIC

Gasometer, Melbourne, VIC

Gasometer, Melbourne, VIC