The Bennies: Queens Of The Stoned Age
It was just over a year ago today that The Bennies were walking offstage, dripping with sweat after sending Soundwave ’15 up in smoke. Those shows served as somewhat of a breakthrough for the Melbourne quarter-ounce-tet, introducing a whole new legion of soon-to-be-stoners to the wondrous, smoke-soaked realm of the Heavy Disco. In the months that followed, the blokes grew from small-time record store jammers to a blossoming theatre band, now in the craft of smashing party-punk bangers to crowds of thousands on the daily. And the gas-doused tinder to send their flames into space? Wisdom Machine – 11 cuts of raw, ravenous anarchy set to leave smoke alarms pillaged and conservatives disgusted, all around the world. In the build up to The Bennies’ world domination, BLUNT caught up with bassist Craig Selak to get the grind on why album #3 is well worth a blaze.
On a scale of 1 to 420, how high are you right now?
High on coffee, about four thousand and twenty! But no weed for me today, I’m keeping things mellow on a life level.
So fucking Wisdom Machine, dude! It’s a killer party album, but it’s also got some serious moments, and a couple of tracks where shit just hits the fan (in a good way). What was The Bennies’ “mission statement” for Wisdom Machine?
Exactly what you just said! The idea was to pack it with as much party juice as possible, but try and take it in a deeper direction as well; so if you really want to look for some serious stuff, you can, but if you don’t want to – if you just want to fuckin’ chuck it on and party, it’ll still do that for you as well.
If there’s one thing we’ve gathered from PR bios and other interviews, it’s that the studio sessions for this album were just fucking intense – these crazy bouts of stress and immediacy. Little bit of a cliché question, but what were those studio sessions like?
I think a lot of the stress on our part came from the fact that we recorded 22 tracks. We always write – all the time – but we’ve never gone into a recording with that much prepared, and I think it was almost just too much for our small minds to handle [laughs]. But I think because of that, we got better performances out of ourselves, and everyone was just so… Like, we pretty much just fucking lived and breathed Wisdom Machine for three months – writing and recording – so it was intense on that level, but also extremely rewarding coming out of the other side. We’ve pretty much got two albums worth of material in the can as well, so we’re really excited with this collection of tunes – this felt like the best form for these songs – but there’s still at least another album, and a bit more in the can that could see the light of day at some point as well.
22 songs, holy shit. Do you have any grand plans for those B-sides? Two albums in a year could be sweet!
Absolutely no plans at this point – the original idea was just to get as many songs as we could, so we could pick the really good stuff for the album. We wanted to have a good spread of different genres and things across each release, so y’know, there’s a couple of songs like “Party Machine”, there’s a couple of songs like “Corruption” – there’s a couple of those songs lying around, and we didn’t want to put to put them all on the one album. I think we do have something there that could be a cohesive piece of work, but the main thing was, once we decided what tracks were going to be on Wisdom Machine, none of us had touched any of the other stuff. We really wanted to focus on Wisdom Machine as its own thing, give it its own life, tour it – I think at some stage, when the dust settles, we’ll go back and have a listen through, see what we’re going to do with the other stuff.
“The idea was to pack it with as much party juice as possible, but try and take it in a deeper direction as well.”
Do you find that putting yourselves in intense situations pushes you to yield better music, as opposed to a chill sesh?
I think it’s a mixture of the two. In the past, we’ve written really quickly, and that’s been an enjoyable process, but this was the first time that we actually took some time off from touring and just specifically spent that time writing. That was also really different and intense, and I think somewhere between the two is probably the sweet spot. Y’know, in the past we’ve probably rushed things, we probably could have gotten more out of ourselves – not to say that we’re not really proud of what we’ve done, but we were always either writing and recording between touring, or during tours. This time we really took some time to line up the bat and middle it, and I think that led to a really good album.
So you guys worked again with long-time producer Sam Johnson on this record. What is it about good old Sammy Johnno that makes him the best studio worker of all time?
Sammy fuckin’ J! He’s easily part of the band. There’s something about the relationship we have, where it’s so… Spoken. We’ll play him songs, demos, whatever – even just send him our lyric ideas, all kinds of shit – and he’s always on the same page as us. As a producer, he’s a really clever reader of people, and one thing that we really benefit from in the studio is his ability to sort of read a situation or a person and get the best performance out of them, across the board. Even if it’s just guests coming in, let alone the band members themselves. His studio, Holes and Corners – it’s such a comfortable environment; it just feels like you’re chilling at home. Everything is perfectly poised for the best takes.
I want to talk about the song “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” because it’s effortlessly your most epic song. It’s like a Bennies opus, which – it shouldn’t work, but it’s just fucking awesome. What’s the story behind that banger?
Alright, well, there’s two parts to it! Musically, the background was: we started writing a reggae jam – which is the first section – and then we all thought, “Oh yeah, that’s a sweet reggae song,” we kind of put that to the side. And then we started jamming on it, like another song that kind of sounded, y’know, a little more punk-y, kind of Rancid-y, kind of upbeat – and we realised that they fit together really well. We were like, “Oh shit, this could be like a sweet two-parter tune!” And then, like, a year beforehand, we’d been soundchecking with this sweet techno, disco kind of sound – that we couldn’t quite get to fit into anything – and that seemed to flow really nicely into the end of this track, so all of a sudden, we were like, “Fuck! Let’s try to make a eight-to-ten minute fuckin’ ska/prog tune!” So y’know, we started crafting it a bit more, bringing those paths together and getting the melodies to cross between each section – it just kind of took on a life of its own. So musically, yeah, that really pushed us to do something out of the ordinary. Normally, uh, our attention spans are pretty fuckin’ small [laughs] – so we like to write short, quick tunes, and so it was cool to really push ourselves for this one.
“We didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes or anything like that, and Jay literally broke down the walls between the bands… Like, in the band rooms – he actually pushed the wall down.“
And lyrically, it’s definitely something unique to Wisdom Machine in that it’s a much more personal song – written by Anty – that’s not necessarily about partying, per se. It’s about the relationship that he has with his brother, and at times that’s pretty strained, so it was kind of cathartic for Anty to put that down and really express himself. But also, like I said: it’s still got enough juice, and that party atmosphere is still there – people want to come to our band to not worry about things; you can still enjoy the tune for what it is, but if you want to dig deeper and really listen to the lyrics, there’s a solid message in there.
What was it like bringing Jay Whalley (of Frenzal Rhomb infamy) into the mix for “Maybe We Could Get High”?
Ohhhh mate! The fucking greatest! We first met Jay last year – we were supporting NOFX, and so were Frenzal – and it was like, there was a moment backstage where it was all kind of segregated; I think it was the first or second show of the tour, we were all really timid, we didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes or anything like that, and Jay literally broke down the walls between the bands… Like, in the band rooms – he actually pushed the wall down. He came in and he was like, “What’s going on motherfuckers!?” We had a beer together, and from that point on, it was just an instant friendship. And so, we were looking for a lyric on this album – Jules was originally going to sing that verse, but he just wasn’t quite feeling it, so we thought, “Ah, it would be sweet if Jay was interested in collabing with us!” And he just put down this fucking sweet verse!
How much Vengaboys were you guys bumping when you decided to bash that breakdown out on “Party Machine”?
[laughs] Not as much Vengaboys as you would hope, unfortunately! We had just been at Psyfari, which is this sweet psytrance festival – we’ve played the last three years in a row, and we’ll hopefully just keep playing it forever until they tell us to stop. And yeah, it’s just a sweet bush doof atmosphere, really good music, and – it was actually the week before we were starting to record, we didn’t actually have the song “Party Machine” done at all. It was only a couple of days before we went in – we were still hungover from this festival, just jamming through the tunes for one last run before we went in to record them, and I was like, “Oh fuck, I’ve got this idea from the weekend; it’d be sweet if we could chuck some sweet doof action in there, get a bit hectic.” It was just one of those songs that, once you start writing, it just writes itself. It just kind of… Burst! We were laughing so much, we were like, “Yeah, we have to keep that!”
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The Bennies / Off With Their Heads / Hightime
Saturday March 26th – Corner Hotel, Melbourne (18+)
Sunday March 27th – Club 54, Launceston (18+)
Monday March 28th – Brisbane Hotel, Hobart (18+)
Thursday March 31st – Uni Bar, Adelaide (AA)
Friday April 1st – Corner Hotel, Melbourne (18+)
Saturday April 2nd – Amplifier, Perth (18+)
Sunday April 3rd – Prince of Wales, Bunbury (18+)
Wedday April 6th – Transit Bar, Canberra (18+)
Thursday April 7th – Cambridge Hotel, Newcastle (18+)
Friday April 8th – Oxford Art Factory, Sydney (18+)
Saturday April 9th – Woolly Mammoth, Brisbane (18+)
Sunday April 10th – Sol Bar, Maroochydore (18+)