With their debut album Growing Up released earlier this year to an incredibly positive reception and some extended time on the airwaves, we had an in-depth chat with Bugs frontman Connor Brooker on how the noise pop trio have juggled full-time work, writing and recording their debut and trying to establish and set themselves apart as relatively fresh faces in a Brisbane music scene that has rarely been more populated with young and hungry artists just like them.
Hey Connor, how are you doing?
Yeah good dude, how’s your day been?
Not too bad, what are you up to?
Just on the bus home right now from work after being there for nine hours so pretty wrecked.
What a fun day.
Yeah, I work in retail but everyone was in a good mood today so it was pretty chill. Usually people are just shit and rude.
You’ve got about a month or so left of chill before it starts getting awful for Christmas right?
Yeah dude, it’s crazy. Last year I got told I ruined about eight people’s Christmases ‘cause we didn’t have stuff in stock like, “I’m sure that’s a reflection on my lack of preparedness and not yours.”
You absolute Grinch.
Yeah I just have to cop it, that’s fine. I can deal with that. I kind of just feed off it now, get energy off of ruining people’s Christmases so it’s actually a good thing. The more I ruin the stronger I become.
Congratulations on your debut album released this year, Growing Up.
Thanks man! Appreciate it.
It’s definitely been on high rotation on my Spotify since it came out, what do you think of the response you’ve had thus far?
Yeah it’s sick. We never really expected much to be honest, we’re not really confident people so we’re pretty stoked that anyone even listened to it at all, let alone the support that it’s gotten. Especially for singles like When I Know and Instant Coffee and especially Instant Coffee. It’s had over 40 spot plays on Triple J or something and we’ve had so many friends message us about different songs they like. The reach of it has definitely surprised us.
We’re just happy to have released the album at all really, to have gotten our shit together to do something like that. We’ve just done self-produced EPs for a while so an album was a nice milestone to get out of the way. Brock (Weston, drums) and I have been working towards that for about a year and a half now.
The response has been great. Live if anything it’s been a little better and our new songs have been responded to super well in a live setting so that’s even more rewarding. Having people dance and sing along and have a good time, that’s the best kind of response you could hope for.
You mention you’ve been working towards this for quite some time now, has that included the creative process as well? Had you been writing material for Growing Up for that long or was it a situation where the songs were written in a fairly condensed space of time?
Pretty quick writing-wise. I write like crazy man, about 10 songs a week. They’re not all good, don’t get me wrong *laughs*, heaps of terrible ones but for that album it was all written in December. We’ve got so many songs kicking around at the moment and it’s frustrating because it’s all getting backlogged.
But yeah, the end of last year I wrote the album and then did pre-recording demos and had an idea of what we wanted to achieve sound-wise. I wrote it all over the space of about two months just to maintain a bit of consistency with the themes. It’s not a concept record or anything but I was going through some mental maturing at that point and wanted to reflect that in the lyrics. I like to condense writing into a period for a release because it gives an accurate snapshot and a pretty cool perspective of where my head was at around that time. Looking back on it like an emotional photobook kind of thing *laughs*.
So yeah, two months writing at the end of last year, smashed out the recording at the start of this year and then just tried to get everything organised for the release.
Speaking on the kind of central themes of the record, there’s something inherently fun and relatable about the music of Bugs. Is this reflective of the creative process that you find yourselves writing in?
Oh God yeah man. Thank you so much for starters, that’s really nice of you to say. Yeah, it’s just fun man. I respect other people’s processes completely if they take it seriously like a job almost and I know other writers who are meticulous and look over their work with a fine tooth comb. Not saying I’m not a perfectionist to some degree, being like that just kind of takes away from the honesty and spontaneity of it for me I guess.
I just like to keep it as genuine as possible by keeping the whole process easy and fun and relaxed. Brock and I, we’ll just put together a song on an acoustic guitar over a couple of weeks and never feel any pressure to get it done by a deadline or anything. We work it all out with our new bassist Jordan in a really friendly and casual setting bouncing ideas off each other. There’s never any sort of angst around what we’re going to do.
We’re just looking to have a good time and hopefully channel that into our music. That’s the kind of people we are.
You mentioned you write about 10 songs a week. I know you’re a fairly busy dude with other projects like Pro Vita and your ongoing crusade against other people’s Christmases. How do you balance it all?
*Laughs*. Dude it’s so hard. In terms of the music it makes no money. There’s money coming in from APRA and playing gigs but that all goes straight back into paying for things like graphic designers and to keep the band self-sustainable.
In all honesty, trying to do all of that is pretty much a full-time job as well because I handle all the management and creative aspects of these projects like videos, art and formulating direction. It can be a bit messy but I’m just trying, as I get older, learn from other people around me.
A great mentor and a person I have admiration for is Jeremy Neale. He’s one of my favourite songwriters ever. I’ve known him for a while now and he’s just so calm about what he does and he wasn’t like that when I first met him, so seeing how much happiness music has brought into his personal life and his work and other aspects of his life outside of music, so I’m just trying to get my own working life and family life and everything else organised so that the music is a non-stressful part of it. When it gets time-consuming it gets really stressful because music doesn’t pay the bills and work does and sometimes you have to take work off to do the show that’s not going to give you any money.
As an adult, I’m sure you can understand this because you’ve got bills to pay too, it can get pretty stressful but I’m getting better at time management and starting to have a bit more of an adult approach to my life so that flows on into the music. It’s all well and good to be off the cuff in saying this but it’s only going to get you so far if you just keep doing this your whole life, you have to have a plan and the only way you can do that is by slowing down every so often.
What’s it been like for Bugs as a relatively new band trying to establish yourselves in a fairly thriving music scene in Brisbane right now. What do you have to do to set yourselves apart just to get those shows?
I used to live on the Sunshine Coast so coming to Brisbane it was really daunting coming to this, for lack of a better word, incestuous culture in that everyone was in each other’s pockets and knew each other and I was just this 18-year-old coming from the Sunshine Coast and it seemed fairly impossible trying to get in with a booker or become friends with bands.
I looked at the strength of it back then with people like Violent Soho and Dune Rats coming through and just thinking “how the hell is anyone gonna know us making our shitty noise pop?” So not long after I got here I lost that mentality of wanting to be noticed and just kept plugging away at it for our own enjoyment. I guess that worked for us organically, because people started liking the music and showing up to gigs and you’d see these familiar faces.
The whole Brisbane community has been amazing though. We’ve established ourselves through a few years of live gigging now and the bookers are amazing. People like Pat at the Foundry, Jesse at The Brightside, the guys at The Zoo. The guys in The Creases and a bunch of bands have been so good to us as well and it doesn’t ever feel like a competition in this area because it feels like everyone is working together to make each other stronger.
It seems like the most boring thing ever but there’s no competing. There’s no “oh we’re playing on the same night as this band and they’re the same demographic as us so they’re going to steal all the fans. We need to make the door cheaper!” There’s none of that crap going on. If you dig other people’s work and they’re nice people you just want them to succeed.
It’s such an established scene as well. It’s nothing but motivation seeing artists like Jeremy Neale and Babaganouj leading the way, especially as older artists, I look up to those guys and it’s been great being accepted and helped by them. It’s been a lot more natural than I thought I guess.
The support has definitely paid off for you guys, you’ve played shows now alongside the likes of Modern Baseball, Twin Peaks and PUP just recently. I’m sure this is going to be a nightmare to nail down but has any one experience stood out to you from the last year?
Ah man… I’m saying this because it’s still so fresh in my mind but PUP not long ago were fucking crazy dude.
Twin Peaks was great, don’t get me wrong, but it didn’t seem to sell that well. I don’t give a shit how many people are there to watch us, I just mean that I love Twin Peaks and for them to come all the way from Chicago and only have 150-200 people in the room I was like “Noooo, you guys deserve so much better!” *laughs*.
I’m a huge Twin Peaks fan and I was overseas for that show so that’s heartbreaking to hear.
I thought it was going to sell out for sure, but yeah, with the PUP show though it was so amazing to see so many people show up so early and watch us. I don’t give a shit if they didn’t know who we were before they came, the room was 100% full when we played and the reception everyone gave us was super overwhelming. The number of people who came up afterwards for a hug or to tell us that they’d had a good time or we’d had an effect on their night was just awesome.
And the PUP guys were the nicest dudes ever. I’d say that would probably be it. If not it’d be talking to Brendan and Sean from Modern Baseball. I didn’t really get too much of a chance to hang with PUP because they were super tired and hungover from their show in Sydney. They were really nice guys but they had to bail pretty quick but the Modern Baseball dudes hung around for a chat and to pass on some knowledge.
Just watching them, after being a successful touring band for so many years, they’re just the best fucking friends having a great time and are just in genuine disbelief to be where they are playing music every night. They’re genuinely appreciative and humble people and that’s a really good example to set. Seeing those guys after so much success and so much positivity come their way and to still be such genuine dudes. I don’t know…
You see a lot of older international bands become a bit douchey so it was great to see some of my heroes be who you believed them to be. Not just meeting your expectations but exceeding them, it was really cool.
That’s awesome to hear.
Yeah I’d say it was one of those two moments, but you can pick *laughs*.
Why not both! Your next big show is Deadlam for Halloween…
It’s one of the best calendar dates of the year for Brisbane music and this is one of the biggest bills they’ve ever had I think.
So I keep hearing from people about this little old Deadlam thing. As a new Brisbanite I hadn’t really heard about it but so many people I talk to are like “dude it’s going to be so wild!”
Is there anyone in particular playing that night that you’re looking forward to perhaps meeting or chatting to?
Oh I’d love to meet the guys from Shining Bird, they make some really cool music. GL too, some funky as shit tunes, I’d love to chat to them about their production because they make some really dense tunes as well.
I’m really looking forward to seeing Twin Haus. I work with Dan from Twin Haus and we’re really good mates but I haven’t seen them play since their show at The Brightside last year and I was so blown away. You Beauty too. Coming from someone who also sings with a twangy Australian accent I absolutely love You Beauty. Squidgenini too! Holy shit I’m so keen to see Squidgenini live because it’s an absolute racket apparently.
Keen to talk to the guys from The Drones as well if the opportunity presents because, even though I’ve not really listened to a lot of their music, they’re incredibly talented musicians and they’re held in such high regard in the music industry and have probably been through and seen a whole lot of things in their time.
I’m just keen to talk to anyone who can pass on any knowledge about the way they do things, that’s invaluable to me and The Drones have done some really impressive things around some really great music over the years.
Getting to your own performance on the night, you guys are quite known for your covers in live sets, I heard a pretty mean one of Cher’s Believe at the Mountain Goat Valley Crawl earlier this year and I think the same night we heard What’s My Scene by the Hoodoo Gurus as well, can we expect anything new covers-wise at Deadlam this year?
There was something we mashed up the other day we were going to do. *Off phone* Hey Brock!? What was that fucked up cover we were thinking about doing?…
Oh yeah, we’re doing that I’m A Bloke song, can’t remember the proper name but it’s the knockoff version of that I’m A Bitch song from the 90s *sings the chorus*. We’re doing that and then we had something else but I think it’ll have to stay a surprise because I can’t think of it right now *laughs*.
Probably better not to reveal everything in advance. I think your cover of Bloke is going to go off like a frog in a sock though!
*Laughs* Nice colloquialism there by the way.
It’s tried and true. Any ideas for Halloween costumes too?
I grew up with two older sisters who used to dress me up as Spice Girls but I might do something a bit safer. I saw a guy dressed up as a bag of ice on Facebook the other day so maybe I could go as either party ice or party party ice *laughs*. I think that’d be pretty funny. I was going to go as a cigarette but I think The Durries already did that.
RIP! You could do it as an homage?
Yeah, kind of like a walking tombstone to them *sighs* God those guys were great. Ah well, we’ll always have the EP.
Gone too soon. Just to wrap up here Connor because I know you’ve had a long day at work but what’s next for Bugs?
We’re just trying to take it as it comes. We’ve got Deadlam and then Jungle Love and then we’re keen to just have a bit of a relaxed end of the year playing some fun shows and get some writing done so that we can have a big new release to work on over the summer and hopefully have something out by January-February.
We’re thinking hopefully a 6-8 track EP because an album takes a huge commitment as we’ve just found out. Before then we might put out one last single from Growing Up post-Deadlam with a video and hopefully get some more traction with that. Hopefully it goes well but if not we’re chill, we got the next EP and about a million more songs backed up.
Never too worried about the future man, especially with the shittiest news just gone with Fergus Miller from Bored Nothing passing away so suddenly. I mean… if that doesn’t put into perspective how goddamn lucky I am to be here to be here in such a happy and positive headspace then I don’t know what would. It’s super sad and it upsets me a lot but at the same time I couldn’t be more appreciative for how lucky I am.
Thank you so much too for taking the time to do this interview.
It certainly does put a lot of things into perspective. Not at all, looking forward to seeing a lot more of Bugs in the future.
Dude thanks so much, it really means a lot.
Catch Bugs at Deadlam this Friday night in Brisbane. Tickets available here