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Bodyjar: Model Citizens

Model Citizens

The Congregation of Atreyu

After a precarious standing in the modern scene, Bodyjar frontman Cameron Baines explains how touring alongside his heroes in Descendents kicked the Aussie punk staples back into gear. Photos by Kane Hibberd.

Cam Baines is in a pretty jovial mood, as he should be. It’s been eight years, a break up, a make up and a few laps around Australia, but Bodyjar are officially back and the band’s singer, songwriter and newly relocated suburban homeowner is having a ball.

“Yeah man, the album is done and ready to go. It’s been bloody ages, the last thing came out in what, 2005? So I guess we’ll see how it goes,” he laughs. “We’re having a lot of fun so it can’t be that bad.”

Given the extended break between releases, as well as the band’s formal hiatus in 2009, there must have been a significant trigger point for Baines, long-serving bassist Grant Relf, fellow guitarist and vocalist Tom Read and drummer Shane Wakker to set aside the walking frames, dust off the old Bodyjar rehearsal space and have another crack?

“I guess when we decided to call it quits in 2009 we were in a bit of a lull. We weren’t motivated to do anything release-wise and our personal lives all took a turn. Grant and Tommy all had kids and that sort of thing, so just normal stuff I guess.”

Life gets in the way?

“Exactly man, life gets in the way. I just don’t think we could’ve made another record. It didn’t feel right to do it or even keep going, so we called it quits. After a few years we all started to miss it and then we did those reunion shows, but what really made it feel right was that Descendents tour,” recalls the singer. “Seeing those guys man, they were the reason we even started playing. I used to write them letters when I was 14 and now we get to play with them 20 years later and it’s like fuck, we can do this on our own terms, let’s just give it a go. They’re the best band in the world and such humble guys, I just fucking love them so that was the big turning point for sure.”

Being able to remove themselves from the industry grind – record, release, promote, tour, repeat – was the other key factor in Bodyjar’s 2013 rejuvenation, a trap that Baines is adamant the group won’t be falling into again.

“We did that for a long time, touring every two or three months and it became a full-time job. As you get older there are other things you need to commit to, like family and all that stuff, so we just couldn’t do it anymore. We couldn’t see a way of moving forward without succumbing to all that shit. If we tried to do an album and we weren’t 100 percent committed it would’ve been shit,” he laughs.

While sharing a stage with his lifelong heroes certainly lit a fire under Baines’ arse, the group’s 10 year anniversary tour for the now-classic No Touch Red was crucial in guiding Bodyjar’s creative decisions for what would become their latest record, Role Model.

“Doing those shows helped me work out what we were. I took a step away from it and it made me realise this is what we do best, let’s just write a good fucking punk record and not worry about all the other stuff.”

So does Baines feel everything that followed No Touch Red deviated from the band’s core strengths?

“I think we got sidetrack on that self-titled record for sure. It was a bit more diverse and it was a direction we had to explore at the time, but Role Model is us working out what we best sound like.”

Adding to Bodyjar’s refreshed outlook was their return to ground zero in that the four-piece found themselves without a label for the first time since the early ‘90s. Rather than freak out and do what many veteran acts have done in 2013 (which is shamelessly beg their fans for “donations” via crowdfunding platforms), the group flourished, embracing the sense of control and lack of eternal meddling that they’d been afforded.

“Being in charge of everything to do with Role Model was incredibly satisfying, making all those decisions from the producer right down to the artwork was exactly what we needed. Not that we were ever really steered by record companies, but this was a real group effort and once it’s out it’ll feel even more satisfying,” states Baines, clearly relishing the band’s change in circumstance. “It’s bizarre what you can achieve without the label influence, we felt like we could flex a bit more which makes the whole thing feel more special. I don’t know, in a lot of ways Bodyjar feels brand new and fresh again and we’re loving it.”

Thankfully, that sense of youthful enthusiasm hasn’t resulted in the Melbourne punks casting aside their trademark sound in favour of something more contemporary and en vogue. No, Role Model plays to Bodyjar’s strengths, focusing on the speed and technicality of their earlier releases along with the refined and oh-so-catchy melodies of their later work.

“We call it knacker punks: flat out, fast songs,” chuckles Baines. “We wanted to make sure there were at least three or four of those on this record, which is why we felt ‘Fairytales’ was the right first single. It was a good representation of what this album is all about… It’s definitely a cohesive Bodyjar record.” He continues, confessing,

“We knew No Touch Red was good but it was really raw and underdeveloped, which probably contributed to its charm, but we wanted to write that really developed, flat knacker record with a little more substance. We didn’t want it to sound like an old Bodyjar record, it had to stand up on its own or there wouldn’t have been any point doing it.”

And what about Baines’ expectations for Role Model?

“I guess the release will tell us a lot. It’s one thing for people to come to reunion shows but this is a new record, so we’ll find out where we really sit. We just want to be a staple band that you can rely on to make great records and tour when we can. I see these new bands in their 20s going hard like we did and I get jealous, because those were the best times of our lives, but now we’ll be happy to write music and support the record when
we can.”

Role Model

is out now on UNFD.

Click here for the tour dates.

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