The Great Emu War Casualties was born near the end of 2017 on the other side of the world in a small village in the UK called Liverpool (apparently some band called The Beatles was also born there?), where bassist Saskia (aka 'Unicorn Head') met frontman Joe (aka 'Mr Boohoo') and sound enthusiast Elliott (who has subsequently left the band to travel the world working on cruise ships). Saskia's time in the UK inevitably drew to a close (being an Australian immigrant), and when Elliott parted ways on a boat, both she and Joe continued the band briefly in the Netherlands before running out of money and deciding to settle in Saskia's home country in Melbourne. It was here that they met and joined forces with Maxi 'Maximilliano' Maxwell (who randomly used to be a guitar tech for HAIM in the UK!) and famous Nepali metal lord Bibek 'B-bek' Tamang (who it turns out is also secretly an excellent indie rock drummer).
The band, whose tracks are regularly described as quirky, eclectic and eccentric, are really just a pop group who cite Talking Heads, The Killers, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Everything Everything and John Grant among their main influences. In the year that they've been in Australia they have played incessantly, headlining Oxford Arts Factory and The Factory Theatre in Sydney and hosting residencies at The Evelyn and The Tote in Melbourne. They released three EPs in 2018 with Aardvark Records in the UK and are planning to release three singles independently this year, with the first single launch at The Bergy Seltzer on August 10th.
Question: How would you describe your music?
Saskia: Indie-alternative-art-alt-rock-crackle-pop-indie-nouveau-shamanic-indie or something roughly equivalent.
Question: What inspired the track, Welcome and Good Luck?
Joe: I moved to Melbourne a little over a year ago from the UK, and before I left home, me and a friend went on a poorly thought out trip across Europe to waste a bunch of money and time and to take stupid photos of ourselves obscuring landmarks. I was on a train from Rome to Venice, playing on my phone, going through old recordings of guitar ideas, and I found a version of the chorus of Welcome and Good Luck (just the guitar line). I earmarked it as something I wanted to use and so, a year later, when the band are finally going through the process of turning this idea into a song, I kept that image on the train journey through Italy, us not knowing where we were, how we'd quite managed to get there, and not really speaking the language.
It's kind of about growing older in a new and strange direction while everything you've grown up around shifts the opposite way, and coming to terms with the fact that a lot of what you thought was constant and indisputable suddenly becomes the opposite. The title, Welcome and Good Luck, we saw outside a gross old RSL in Werribee on the way to the airport. It felt both sarcastic and sincere and I wanted to try and include that feeling.
Question: What motivates you most when writing music?
Joe: This depends entirely on how the writing is going. At the start, I'm normally super excited about the potential of an idea and I'm really motivated to carry on by seeing how good we can make something. Normally, near the end, it's taken me so long to get a handle on what I want the thing to become that I'm totally distracted, there's a newer and more interesting idea and I'm really just motivated to write so that the old thing is finished and I can start the new thing.
Question: Do you prefer performing live or recording?
Bibek: Live is always fun but recording's also been great lately as you can add all these cool elements to the tracks which is quite impossible live.
Saskia: I love recording demos at the time that we come up with an idea because it's all exciting and there's endless possibilities to finally make that perfect song we've always been dreaming of… but then I loathe tracking because I can never get it to sound like how it is in my head and it shatters all my illusions (delusions?) at once. I really enjoy playing live if the sound is good onstage and everyone can get in a zone - that's the best, but also kind of a rarity… usually I'm just annoyed because I can't hear the bass (I'm pretty deaf though because I refuse to wear ear plugs - kids, don't be an idiot like me, just wear them already. I guess the unicorn head doesn't help either…)
Joe: Whenever I'm doing either I instantly prefer the other! It depends on so many things. If whatever I'm doing is suddenly not fun then keeping on doing it becomes near impossible. It's cliché and I never used to feel this way but the stage is my favourite place to be now. I think that's just because I've been doing it for a while and I'm much more comfortable and confident that I feel our material is worthwhile in some way. There's also the fact that we're an unknown and so there's literally no pressure to be any good at all.
The recording is a weird one because we've recorded the vast majority of our material on a shoestring budget in our respective homes – Welcome and Good Luck included. It's meant we've been able to save on studio money to work with people like Cal Barter in LA who has been an absolute legend. I'd love to be working in a swish professional studio, but the second you get in you're suddenly staring down the barrel of deadlines and budgets and asking questions about which aspects of the songs are most important. A proper recording session without one eye on money or time would be the dream.
Question: What should we expect from your upcoming single launch?
Saskia: Unicorns… wigs… drum samples of Joe laughing in an unflattering manner… drum samples of Nicolas Cage crying… a couple of support acts who are much better than us and possibly some surprise guests…
Question: If you could have anyone, in the world, attend a show, who would it be?
Joe: Gentry so I could get him on stage to actually perform that synth part in Welcome and Good Luck with us. That synth performance is both the best and worst thing that's happened to us this year because it's such a good solo and I just can't get close in terms of ability on the guitar. If I saw him in the audience he wouldn't stand a chance of escaping. I might actually have to kidnap him and bring him on board full time. Why live in LA working as a session keys player for Quincy Jones when you can live in Melbourne with me? Maybe don't answer that question…
Question: What is the story behind the band name?
Saskia: My fault… for some reason the topic of The Great Emu War came up in the UK (Wikipedia is your friend if you don't know the meme already). The British guys didn't even know what an emu was let alone that there was a Great Emu War… I figured it was such a stupid name that literally no one else in the world would ever think of it, but then we moved to Melbourne and lo and behold there is a three-piece indie band probably ten minutes down the road from us called The Great Emu War… whoops. I wanted to do a gig together with them because I thought it would be hilarious but I feel like they probably hate us because we accidentally stole their name so I was too scared to approach them in the end… we have some back-up names ready in case they want us to change it - 'Big Girls Blouse' or 'Gobblin' Goblin' (I'm the only one who wants to be Gobblin' Goblin though…)
Question: How did the band come together?
Joe: Man, isn't that the question. This might be a long winded one so I'll stick to the broad strokes… Saskia joined a band I was in back in the UK after our guitarist brought her down to audition. She passed it first time obviously. Then after a series of crap gigs and a good EP that nobody ever heard about, the band split up. I decided to never work in music again and joined a new band by the end of the week. We started up as The Great Emu War Casualties as an electro synth pop band with Elliot, the old band's keys player, and over the course of a few months we'd written a decent amount of material. After tracking some demos, Saskia's visa ran out so she flew back to Sydney and Elliot took up work as a sound tech on a cruise ship (and has never gotten off the boat) and I got a job and it was rubbish.
Because jobs are so rubbish, and making smart decisions is hard, me and Saskia moved to Amsterdam for a while and tried to get the group set up again. We released our first EP there, I spent about eight months not learning Dutch, we couldn't get booked to play and we ran out of money and went home with our tail between our legs, and so, again, I got a job and it was rubbish.
Because jobs are so rubbish, and making smart decisions is hard, I moved to Melbourne because Saskia hates Sydney and tried to set up the group again. We met Bibek here though the internet because it's 2019 and that's how you meet people now apparently. These five paragraphs are the short version. Buy me a beer and I'll tell you all about the song we recorded with Snowy White's drummer in a haunted mansion in 's-Graveland (fitting name) in the Netherlands that will hopefully never see the light of day, or the specialist Dance record label in Cornwall who helped us release our early material. They have a charting number 1 artist in Georgia and it isn't us.
Saskia: That is an incredibly long answer that nobody cares about, Joe…
Question: Which music/artists are you currently listening to?
Saskia: Meshell Ndegeocello (because I saw her play recently and she is the most amazing ever), Foals (because their new album came out recently and it is the most amazing ever), Big Walnuts Yonder (because how has it taken me so long to find out that Mike Watt did an album with Nels Cline, umm amazing?) and Lekhfa (which is an Egyptian indie supergroup my friend recommended a while ago who are like also the most amazing ever).
Bibek: At the moment I am watching this YouTube series by Vic Firth called VF jams. It's a great collaboration of all the crazy musicians. And the new Norah Jones álbum.
Joe: Just going through my most recent YouTube history: Bon Iver, The Strokes and Bloc Party… boring, right? I've just found a website with all the latest Glastonbury full sets on though so I'm going to work through that, taking care to avoid that Killers/Smiths crossover song which the world really did not need.
Question: What or who was your inspiration to go into the music industry?
Bibek: Wayne's World and the Detroit Rock City were the inspiration for me.
Saskia: Good question… I should say my Dad (no, not Eric…) but that would be lying because he tried everything under the sun to get me to stay away from music. (He knew how futile it was, bless him). But maybe it was the fact that he really didn't want me to do it that made me want to do it. That's usually how teenage rebellion works at age 22, right…? I didn't actually pick up the bass until Uni because anything that wasn't Uni was better than Uni, and it seemed like something that was both cool and easy - I realised too late that it was actually neither of those things…
Joe: I don't really know. I don't think I knew that there was even a music industry to go in to. Definitely haven't managed to get into the industry yet either! My parents were trying to force me into a hobby because I was a lonely loser child who didn't like people or things and I saw a music festival on the TV and told them I wanted to do that in the hope that they'd leave me alone but instead they bought me this cheap little Yamaha guitar at the pawn shop in Liscard Village when I was eight years old. That shop became a dog groomer place and is now a craft beer brewery unless they've also shut that place down. My Auntie, a painter, the only artist in my family, bought me two music books for my 12th birthday – Jimi Hendrix Are You Experienced and Crowded House "Best Of". When I was 18, my college results spelled DUDE and, because all my friends were going to Uni, I convinced a Music Degree course to take me on.
Question: If you could collaborate with another artist, who would it be?
Joe: This one has me stumped. I was thinking I'd just say something like Beyoncé or Taylor Swift and make a joke about a crowd actually showing up for once but that's a cop out answer. The rest of everything I've said probably gives this away but I tend to faff around a bit and say 90 words when one would do and so maybe someone like Daft Punk who write in a much more minimal way. That could be a fun collaboration! Or, maybe LCD Soundsystem for the exact opposite reason.
Bibek: Would really like to learn jazz first and collaborate with a big band or something, might never happen though.
Saskia: It's a bit of a cliché but doing a collaboration with Tom Tom Club would be amazing… (actually I kind of just want an excuse to be in the same room as Tina Weymouth). Either that or Miharu Koshi - she has such weird and fun pop music, that would make for a super interesting session (for us, probably not for her…)
Question: What's a typical day like?
Bibek: Coffee then beating yourself by watching some crazy talented musicians on YouTube and then try to play like them and not able to do so, then again beating yourself, after that listening to your songs and be kind of happy about yourself, and have some drinks and again watch some more YouTube videos and get the confident that it looks quite easy and being able to play that on your head, get on to band group chat, share some GIFs and some videos.
Saskia: Run to first job, run to rehearsal, run to second job, hopefully finish around midnight, repeat until dead… one day it would be nice to get enough money from music to only have to do one job.
Joe: Alarm clock goes off, hit snooze, repeat four to ten times, shower, sit on the train, change trains, get to work, sit in the chair, argue with employees of other companies, promote and encourage irresponsible behaviour, get lunch, sit in the chair again, put big obvious headphones on so people leave me alone, watch the clock, get on the train, get on the other train, get home, lie on the floor, then Bibek and Saskia will probably make me do something productive in a way that's vaguely related to music and so that happens for a couple of hours until I fall asleep and start the whole thing again...
Question: What has been your favourite part of becoming a music artist?
Bibek: Travelling has to be on the top of the list and playing with all the talented people from around the world has been very satisfying. Anywhere you travel, music has helped to establish this immediate connection with the people. You might not know the language but taking your instrument out and jamming has been the best part.
Saskia: Agreed with Bibek, travelling and meeting musicians all over the world has been the best. It's a cliche that music is a universal language but it really is - have connected with a lot of great people and been to a lot of cool places that I otherwise never would have because of music.
Joe: It doesn't really have a 'favourite part' like, it isn't a lot of fun. If I could stop I would but I've tried and I can't, I just end up doing it more.
Question: Can you share your socials?
Interview by Brooke Hunter