Interview: Bad//Dreems – “We’re Trying To Bring Things To Light That Need To Be Brought To Light”

Swiftly becoming one of the best rock and roll bands in the entire country are Adelaide quartet Bad//Dreems. They spent 2015 breaking out in a massive way, releasing their debut LP Dogs At Bay to more than a few rave reviews and then did the Australian thing and toured the holy hell out of it.

They’re not going away in 2016 and are back in Brisbane, for the first time since they were here as headliners last year, to play a set on the bill of one of the premiere rock and roll festivals in its return from a gap year: The Blurst Of Times.

We had the absolute pleasure of a sit-down chat with Bad//Dreems frontman Ben Marwe and bassist James Bartold in the very ambient smoker’s area at The Brightside shortly before they went onstage.

Ben and James from Bad//Dreems, how are you guys doing?

Ben: Very well. A little bit drunk. Just a little bit.

Just a little bit?

James: Just getting there. On the edge, on the cusp.

Very nice, is that the level you like to be before you play a show?

B: Nah not really, I’ve done all sorts of things and it’s not too good being too fucked up. Keep it sane, keep it normal.

J: I like to have just a little bit of that glassy eye where I feel like I can still see a little bit but I’m alright with it.

That’s the way to go. Leading into my next question, you guys are about to get onstage in about an hour’s time. What else do you do before a show? What goes into revving Bad//Dreems up?

B: Not a lot. We usually just watch other bands to get some inspiration. Actually there’s a ritual we have before each gig which is kind of strange but we kiss each other on the shoulder. Just a little peck.

J: Like a footy huddle style of thing.

B: No, nothing really. We just go and set up the gear and do a quick line check and then play *laughs* there’s nothing sort of that we do that’s too complicated.

This is your first time playing The Blurst Of Times I do believe.

B: Yeah it is.

What do you make of a festival like this?

B: It’s fucking awesome. I was just saying to somebody before, we’ve played in Brisbane many times but to see all these young people flooding in these huge lines for a sellout festival at all these different venues. It’s really nice to see and it almost feels like there’s a bit of a comeback with live music. I feel like we’ve been sort of swept up by the digital culture of music for a little while in the late 00s and the… 2010s? What do you call them?

The Teenies?

J: *laughs*, ‘The Teenies’.

B: I feel like people are sort of aching for that live experience again. Not that I know what it was like back in the 70s and 80s but I feel like it’s back.

J: And we’ve wanted to play on this festival for the last couple of years but we haven’t been able to do it. So Jesse (Barbera) who’s been booking was like ‘we’ve gotta get you involved’ and we were fucking pumped. It worked out perfectly. All the bands playing this year are amazing. It’s good to be here with so many bands we like. We get to come and watch them as fans as well as the enjoyment of playing with them and playing for the crowd in Brisbane, which is always wicked.

Speaking of the rest of the bands on the bill, are you guys good mates with anyone here tonight or making some new friends?

B: Yeah we’re good friends with the Dune Rats boys. We just went and saw Heads Of Charm play at The Foundry and they were sick. There’s other bands as well who we’re mates with from Brisbane that are here but not playing but yeah. I guess we don’t know a lot of them but-

J: We haven’t seen The John Steel Singers boys in a while as well so it’ll be good to catch up with them and then there’s a lot of bands we want to see that we haven’t yet. I haven’t seen Kirin J Callinan in years and I’m keen to see The Murlocs live too.

B: I’m really keen to see Methyl Ethel as well.

I was too but I think we’re interviewing Dune Rats while they’re playing.

B: Fuck the Dune Rats! Don’t worry about it.

I’ll let them know. Just talking about the record you just brought out last year Dogs At Bay. You guys, probably in my humble estimation and I’d say the humble estimation of more than a few people, are one of the best young rock bands in Australia that we have at the moment. Bad//Dreems do it a lot differently to your contemporaries I think though, especially as far as lyrical content goes. What makes you want to tell the stories you’ve told?

B: It’s funny how that always comes up. For us, we obviously can’t listen to our music in the way that somebody outside the band can listen to it because we’re the ones writing it but I guess we want to bring to light the problems as well as the good things that happen in this country. Obviously culturally we’re very diverse and there’s things that need to be brought to light and we just try to do that the best way we can which is through lyrics and melodies and music. And if people think that we’re full of shit then that’s what they think, but we’re just trying to be who we are and observe and be nice young men.

J: This is our home. This is our country. We do obviously take influence from all over the world but we know what it’s like to be a part of it and what it’s like to be young men in Australia, so for us it makes sense for us to write about the stuff that we relate to.

B: The same way that Paul Kelly did and the same way that Yothu Yindi or the Warumpi Band do. It doesn’t matter, we’re just trying to maybe bring to light things that need to be brought to light. The problems with young males in this country yes, but there’s also a lot of good things. It’s not all doom and gloom.

I know you boys touch on one aspect of young male culture in Bogan Pride. It’s an aspect of that culture that many might argue is the cause of the lockout laws which Sydney have copped and we’re about to cop here in Queensland. What do you make of the connection there?

B: I think people need to be educated better. From one person to the next there’s obviously a problem with the way young people react to alcohol and how much they’ve consumed at any given time or circumstance, on any given night.

For me, and I know for the other guys in the band and probably every one of our friends we have in Adelaide, the last thing that we have on our minds when we get pissed is to go and punch somebody in the head or act derogatory towards women or gay people or anybody of a different race but there are people in this country that are spurred on to do that and they do act that way.

I don’t know what the answer to that is and I guess the government is putting those kinds of things in place to try and deter that. If I knew the answer I’d be a politician but that’s the last thing I ever want to be.

J: I think a big problem that a lot of the music scene has with this is that it’s going to stifle the ability for people to get out and see music. We grew up in places where you could go out and drink til after 2am and see these amazing bands and DJs where now people won’t go see them because they’re locked out or they can’t get booze, yet all the ones causing the problems don’t want to be a part of this better culture around the arts and all that important stuff we’re trying to keep alive.

B: And you never see that. To be honest, I’ve not ever at any gig that we’ve played seen somebody act violently towards somebody else deliberately. Music and arts culture does not reflect that sort of behaviour, it doesn’t breed those sorts of people; It’s everything else. So maybe target something else that’s not going to be affected by those laws.

I find it interesting that Sydney and Brisbane as a part of the whole of Queensland are being affected by these laws but nowhere else in Australia is following suit. You boys are from Adelaide, South Australia, why do you think that we’re copping it up on this side of the country but where you’re from it’s not as big an issue?

B: It’s a population thing probably. The more people you have the more people who are going to be violent.

J: It’s still an issue in Adelaide I guess. You guys have Fortitude Valley here, we have Hindley Street in Adelaide. You see the same sort of shit at night and the same sort of problems but I think it’s a political thing. In Sydney and here in Brisbane the politicians think that curbing people from drinking will stop violence.

In Sydney they can say that it has done that but I think in Adelaide they have a different perception within the political realm of it and they feel we need to combat this in a different way, which is to get people into different areas and to have more cops on the streets to stop violence from spewing out onto them.

B: And while our Premier (Jay Weatherill) is spending millions and millions of dollars on a new hospital that’s going to be horrible, he does do a lot of good things as well and he puts a lot of money into the arts and arts culture and that’s what makes Adelaide thrive for much of the year as well. It is a bit of a cultural hub. We have the Adelaide Fringe and there are more and more bands popping up there and venues doing good things so I think if there’s the funding there for that it’s only going to be a good thing for our kids and future generations growing up in that place.

I love Adelaide, it’s cheap rent *laughs*. We get a backyard.

Man I wish. I wanted to ask as well, just touching on your record again. You put that out and it got some pretty massive reviews from some very famous people. People like Robert Forster of the Go-Betweens and then The Avalanches as well. As far as your expectations when you were writing and recording Dogs At Bay, how did they match up to what actually followed its release?

B: Well you never expect people like that to ever hear your music but we’ve got a great platform in Australia which is Triple J and they helped us out a lot.

A lot of people complain about that because I guess they’re unable to play every Australian band that ever writes and records a song, which is just the way it is but we were lucky enough that they got on the bandwagon and pumped it a bit and so a lot more people listened to our music.

You never expect people like Robert Forster and The Avalanches to say things like they did though,. At the same time though, when we write music we do have very high expectations of ourselves and we try to record and write as best we can.

J: It’s always been for us about writing the best song. We’ve never been writing for anyone else but ourselves. We want people to listen to it and love it but when we’re writing a song we’re not there going ‘we’ve gotta target this area’, we just go and try to write the best song we can that suits us.

B: To answer your question, we didn’t expect anything but everything that you do get you take and grab it with open arms.

J: And you learn from it as well. So now we’re trying to start the second album and everything we’ve done in the first album we can learn from like what are our strengths and things that we’ve done well as well as things that we want to improve and make better so that people get an even more diverse and better experience next time they hear us play.

Is there a moment when you’re writing and recording where you know that it’s made the cut?

B: I don’t think you ever completely know with specific parts until you get into the studio but we record every session and then go back and listen to it. We’re always sending songs around. We’re all songwriters and we’re always sharing music with each other and we’ve always got ideas for each other. There’s no arrogance in the songwriting process.

That’s an interesting question though. I guess if you spend too much time on an idea it can get lost and maybe you should just stick with the thing that grabbed you in the first place like a good melody or a good hook, a good bass line or a good drum beat. We just try to keep it basic, which is what rock music is.

J: And the songs that do get released and the singles that you hear are always the ones the band actually hate themselves. It always goes that way. And the label or whoever is going to pick what song is actually released they’ll be like ‘yeah we want that one’ and you’re just like, fuck, we actually hate that song or we’re over that song.

That’s just the way it moves in music, so quickly. A band changes their perception of a song so quickly like we’ve played it too many times or we’ve now played something that’s better because we wrote it last week and it’s fresh. It’s probably one of the hardest things I think, determining which songs are good to stay or which ones to replace. So we just try songs live usually to see what works.

B: We also play new songs live in the right circumstances and then you sort of gauge the crowd’s reaction in certain parts. If they didn’t respond to something in a certain way then maybe we need to work on it a little more or if they do then you think well they liked that. It’s an interesting question and it’s something that I don’t think anyone who has ever written music before can put their finger on because how long do you keep going?

When it’s right it’s right, and I think you feel it and you know it.

Great answer. I wanted to know as well Dogs At Bay came out last year, you’ve toured relentlessly since then and overall had a huge year. What’s been your favourite moment of the last 12 months?

B: I would say releasing the album. I’ve never done that before, that’s a new experience for me in my life. It was probably my proudest moment of being in a band. Not many people ever get to do that.

We play a lot of shows and each one is as good as the last but that was something that stuck in my memory. I remember that day in particular, we played a gig at Clarity Records in Adelaide to kick it off and I was just really happy and proud of all of us from what we’d gone through three years prior to get to that moment.

One last question, what’s next for Bad//Dreems?

B: Lots of writing, lots of recording and a tour with The Living End.

I did see that’s the next time you’re back here. Where does that rank on your history of support slots?

B: It’s a big one. It’s going to be great to play to a lot of people with such a great Australian band who are warriors of the touring circuit. We’ll obviously get to learn a lot from them and to meet a lot of great people along the way, which is what we love most about touring, you get to meet people like yourself and Jesse. Whoever it is, you just meet people and make so many friends.

J: It’s such a shit job hey. We get to go out and watch bands we like, drink beer and then play our own music, it’s fucking horrible.

B: And then go to work on Monday *laughs*

It’s going to be painful. Boys I’ll wrap it up there but thank you so much for your time tonight. Can’t wait to see you out onstage in a bit because I’m a fan first and foremost, it’s been a pleasure to meet you.

B: Really nice to meet you too, thanks heaps.

Image: Adelaide Now