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Opening Up with… Bodyjar


'Opening Up' sees us talk to musicians about the opening track from each of their studio albums. Our next guest is Cameron Baines, the frontman and founding member of Melbourne pop-punk mainstays Bodyjar. With over 30 years in the game, the band has reached inter-generational status as one of the genre's most consistent bands – as well as being responsible for some of the most notable Aussie rock songs of the late 90s and early 2000s. Recently, the band made their long-awaited return with New Rituals, their eighth studio album and their first in almost nine years.

On a relaxed day off work, Bodyjar’s Cameron Baines is chatting away to Blunt from his home office. In the old days, a day off work for Baines might mean he was at home with his family between tour dates. With only a handful of tour dates at the moment, however, Baines has largely been focused on his skate shop Locality Store. “It’s a pretty established place now,” Baines says excitedly. “I’m really excited about what we’ve been able to do with the place.”

Baines grabs a pen and takes to sketching some skate design ideas while the conversation gets rolling – which, when doing an Opening Up, inevitably starts with asking the interviewee what makes a great opener for an album. Baines doesn’t beat around the bush much here – as a fan, he knows exactly what he likes. “It has to be just an undeniable bang,” he says.

“It has to be one of the best songs on the album, maybe in the top three. That’s the way I look at it. For a punk rock album, it has to have the energy. It has to be a fast one. You can’t open up with a ballad or an instrumental or something. I mean, I’m sure bands do that, but to me a good punk record wastes no time. Look at Bad Religion – they’ve always had kick-ass, fast, energetic song at the start that kind of sums up what the album’s about. I think that’s important in punk, but whatever genre it is it just has to be undeniably good. There’s nothing worse than a 30-second white noise intro. I hate that shit! It just has to go bang, there it is. A quiet bit of feedback that builds up to a backwards cymbal? That sort of shit isn’t gonna cut it.”

With that, let’s take a look at Bodyjar’s eight separate bangs from across their career – from youthful naivete to veteran smarts, with a signature song or two in the mix for good measure.

‘Do Not Do’ – Take a Look Inside (1994)

You know the old adage about doing your homework on the bus? Well, now imagine doing your homework on the bus… which has arrived earlier than anticipated, so you’re still trying to put on your uniform and have breakfast all while trying to remember exactly what your homework was in the first place. This is essentially what happened to Bodyjar on their 1994 debut Take a Look Inside – an album that, as Baines testifies, he and his then-bandmates were absolutely not ready for.

“We were just turning 18, and had just signed to Shock Records,” he recalls. “Our plan was to write a bunch of songs over the course of the next year, and then go into record. That changed when Shock were bringing out Descendents for an Australian tour – they wanted Bill Stevenson and Stephen Edgerton to produce an album for us. We were like, ‘What the fuck?’ They were like gods to us – total punk rock royalty – and there we were, picking them up in a panel van with no back seats so they had to lie down in the back so the cops wouldn’t see them.”

Despite their ill-preparedness, Take a Look Inside at least started strong enough with the catchy “Do Not Do.” It’s one of many Bodyjar songs to incorporate punk-rock drumming staple the D-beat – or the “monkey beat,” as Baines and his bandmates call it. This, however, was a foreign concept to the band’s then-drummer, Charles Zerafa. “I think recording that album made him quit the band,” Baines laughs.

“He was so used to just playing time and doing these more power-pop sort of songs, but when we all got into Bad Religion and No Use For A Name the songs became faster and a bit edgier. Charles learned the beat, but he had a double-kick pedal so it didn’t have the same sort of swing – and Bill, being a drummer himself, immediately noticed. He was not very happy about it, let’s say that much.”

‘Windsok’ – Rimshot! (1996)

Okay, first things first: Yes, that is the actual title of the song; and no, there’s no real reason why it’s spelt incorrectly. “It was just a silly-sounding word that we used to shout out whenever we’d do the drive from Melbourne to Sydney,” says Baines. “You know the game – you see a windsock, you yell ‘windsock’, and you have to be the first to say it. Why we spelt it without the C… I do not know.”

The lesson in Bodyjar jargon – or Bodyjargon, if you will – continues when Baines describes “Windsok” as a “tech punk” song. “We were going for something with a Propagandhi feel – that fast and furious sound with a real technical guitar part and heaps of riffs going through it,” he says. “We got a new drummer, Ross Hetherington, who we stole from the band Swamp Rats. He’s one of the best punk-rock drummers this country has ever produced – he’s still a really good mate – and on this album, he’s a fucking gun. We made the most of having him in the band by making all these thrashy songs that almost bordered on metal.

“Lyrically, it was a song about manufactured bands – certain genres come into style, and the labels and managers sort of fashion a band around it. They get big, they fuck off, and something else comes around the corner.” It’s worth noting that this song’s release in the mid-90s syncs up with the start of ongoing backlash pertaining to punk bands that would quote-unquote “sell out” – something Bodyjar themselves would end up doing by the end of the decade, when they were picked up by EMI. “We all behaved pretty badly back then,” says Baines when reflecting on the punk elitism that was rampant throughout the scene on a global scale.

“At the time, we saw major labels as this evil thing. You saw bands like Green Day and Jawbreaker get signed, and there was so much backlash towards them. With that song, we were pretty firmly trying to plant our flag – even though it’s ridiculous to look back on now, in a way. People were trying to decide who was punk based on who did and didn’t go outside of the rules.”

‘Sequel’ – No Touch Red (1998)

They say that the sequel is never as good as the original. Most of the time that’s true, but that’s not the case when it comes to “Sequel,” the opener to the band’s breakthrough album No Touch Red – given it’s a quasi-sequel to a song that doesn’t exist. “It’s another title where we came up with the name while jamming and it just stuck,” says Baines. “I think it may have been derived from the fact it sounded kind of similar to another song that we were working on that never made it past the jam sessions – but funnily enough, it ended up sounding way better than that song. It was like, ‘should we play this song?’, and then we’d go ‘nah, let’s play the sequel instead!’”

Baines points to Fugazi as one of the band’s key influences when crafting the song, specifically by leaning into guitar work that centred on a single key. He also notes the serious nature of the song’s lyrics, which were largely written by the band’s then-guitarist Ben Petterson. “One of his girlfriends around that time had told him about abuse she had received at the hands of a former partner, and I think he was really compelled to write about that,” he says.

Although not released as a single, “Sequel” has found its way into several Bodyjar setlists over the years thanks to being part of commemorative shows and tours where the band play No Touch Red in full. Baines notes that doing such retrospectives allows him to really take stock of what the band has been able to achieve across the decades. “Playing an album in full makes you learn who you are, in a lot of ways,” he says. “It makes you learn both who and what the band is, and it really helps you to understand it all a bit better. When I go back to that album, I see a band that’s ready to cut loose and a band that’s ready to blossom.”

‘Not the Same’ – How It Works (2000)

Amazingly, after all these years, Baines still isn’t sick of being asked about Bodyjar’s signature song – nor is he sick of playing it. “I mean, it’s just easy more than anything,” he laughs. “It’s a simple song with simple melodies, which means it’s a breeze to play. You don’t have to play a thousand notes a second like on some of our other songs, it’s way more straightforward. People are still excited by it – we know that, no matter where we put it in the setlist, people are gonna go absolutely crazy when it hits.”

Baines began working on the song following the end of a relationship, when his ex-girlfriend went overseas in order to get away from the situation. He claims to have stumbled upon the vocal melody and chords as “a total fluke,” and once he’d laid down a four-track demo by himself it immediately caught the attention of the band’s new A&R guy over at EMI. “He said we had to record a full-band demo straight away,” Baines recalls.

“He sent us to a really expensive studio just to demo it! He had ideas, too – at that point, the ‘don’t say I told you so’ pre-chorus only happened once, and he was the one to suggest we add it before every chorus. We weren’t sure about it at first, but once we tried it out it really worked for us. It’s still so fucking stupid to me that the label was more than willing to blow two grand on a demo recording, but hey – it was their money, after all!”

Arguably, the legacy of “Not the Same” was cemented by its inclusion in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 in 2001 – an act made possible by skater Steve Caballero, who featured as a playable character in the series and is described by Baines as a “childhood hero” of the band members. “He was part of the Big Day Out the year that we played as well,” Baines recalls.

“We couldn’t believe it – our hero was out skating before we played, every single morning. In the afternoon, he’d come watch us from side of stage. When he got us onto the Tony Hawk soundtrack it was a dream come true. The developers were like, ‘The fee isn’t going to be much money, you’ll probably get paid maybe $1500’. We were all like, ‘Are you serious? We’ll pay you to be on this soundtrack!’”

‘Is It a Lie’ – Plastic Skies (2002)

There may not be a more immediate opener in the extended Bodyjar canon than “Is It A Lie.” Without wasting a second, Baines’ voice is immediately present – followed by the cavalry of the rest of the band, charging in with the aforementioned “monkey beat” and the kind of visceral melodic punk execution that can only come with what was then over a decade of experience – and that was 20 years ago.

“It’s a song about the way we view history after the fact,” says Baines on the Plastic Skies opener, which also served as the record’s lead single. “Hollywood always makes these movies like Pearl Harbour where they’re intending to depict this massive historical event, but they’ll always change the facts around and claim artistic license when they do.

“It might not seem like much, but it can genuinely alter people’s perception of history – because it becomes the accepted truth. That’s not even touching on the things our kids don’t get taught at school from our own history – just because we don’t want them to know about it.”

The song also reflects a full-circle moment for the band’s relationship with their musical heroes Descendents – after being unimpressed with the young band circa Take a Look Inside, Bill Stevenson couldn’t get enough of “Is It A Lie” when it came across his desk. “Whenever I saw him, he’d always laugh to himself and go, ‘That fucking song, man!’,” says Baines. “He’d immediately start singing it. To have someone you idolised growing up being such a fan of your song… if it was anyone else, it’d be so embarrassing, but with him it was actually sort of amazing.”

‘Another Minute’ – Bodyjar (2005)

The winds of change were blowing amidst Bodyjar’s self-titled sixth album, which ultimately served as their final studio album prior to breaking up in 2009. Hetherington abruptly left the band mid-tour when they were supporting The Offspring, while the band themselves were dropped from EMI and returned to Shock. Needless to say, Bodyjar arrived at a time of great uncertainty for… well, Bodyjar.

“We did everything right, and we were stoked with the album, but we were also a bit over it by that point,” says Baines. “We’d all worked our arses off, and we just needed a break – but instead of taking one, we pulled the plug entirely and told everyone we were breaking up. The problems we were having seemed bigger than the band at that point, but by the time we officially got back together they’d all sort of disappeared.”

In spite of these uncertain circumstances, Baines still thinks highly of the album – and reserves particular pride for its opener, “Another Minute.” “This was like our metal album,” he says. “It was always going to be heavier and it was always going to be different, just on account of where we were coming from – and ‘Another Minute’, it’s such a strange song. There’s these reversed guitars panned in the left and right channels, there’s this sudden breakdown part, there’s these notes that are completely off by design.

“It felt like a weird Bad Religion song to us, and we were stoked with it. For us, it was about finding ways to challenge ourselves after all this time. We wanted people’s ears to prick up as soon as they pressed play on the album, and in that respect I think ‘Another Minute’ was the perfect track to do it.”

‘Petty Problems’ – Role Model (2013)

In the eight years between the release of Bodyjar and Role Model, a lot changed. As aforementioned, the band ultimately split in 2009 following a farewell run. New projects like Cola Wars followed, but the band would still come back together every now and then for a special occasion – such as their heroes Descendents touring Australia again, or beloved Melbourne venue The Arthouse closing its doors. By 2012, the band had officially regrouped in earnest, and by the following year they had a new record to show for it in the form of Role Model. As grateful as he was to have the band back together, however, Baines maintains some honest reservations about Bodyjar’s comeback LP after almost a decade out of the game.

“Looking back on it… it’s okay, but it’s not an amazing album,” he says. “I feel like it’s almost there, and there’s probably six really good songs on there, but it also has a fair bit of filler as well. It’s something I feel we could have done better, in retrospect, but it was hard enough work just making that album happen in the first place. Grant [Reif, bassist] broke his hand right before we were meant to record, so we had to push everything back by a month for him to recover even though we’d all scheduled the time off work to go and record. It was just all over the joint, as an experience.”

So, despite mixed feelings about Role Model as an album, what does Baines make of its opener “Petty Problems”? “That one’s pretty cool, actually,” he says. “We were channelling The Clash and Face To Face on this one, throwing it back to a more classic sort of punk sound. That monkey beat comes back in again, and then it’s all about the melody and that anthemic kind of catchiness. Funnily enough, we didn’t actually play this song live a whole lot – I think it’s because it’s in such a high register. It’s a real bastard to sing! Maybe we can try it out again on the next tour?”

‘Burning Truth’– New Rituals (2022)

In the midst of yet another Victorian lockdown, Baines found himself picking out from an impressive build-up of demo riffs from guitarist Tom Read , ultimately selecting two for the band to base “Burning Truth” around. Similar to the approach of “Petty Problems,” the song stylistically sees Bodyjar returning to its roots – but doing so in a way that simultaneously reflected how far the band had come from its early-90s beginnings.

“It had a very Epitaph feel to it,” says Baines of the song’s sonic foundations. “As soon as I heard the main riff, I was really excited by it – there was this instant gratification that came with it. There was originally way more guitar work on it, but once we stripped it back it really felt like we were unlocking that sound again.” Baines was further impressed by Read adding lyrics to the song, which took their own political bent that was not dissimilar to what they’d gone for on “Is It A Lie” some 20 years prior.

“The song is about Rio Tinto blowing up those caves in the Juukan Gorge,” says Baines. “There was 46,000 years of history there, and they just went ahead and destroyed it. It was just fucking wrong – you’d expect that from Australia’s history, but it’s easy to forget that this was only two or three years ago. When Tom brought in those lyrics, I was really taken by how hard-hitting they were. We’ve never really considered ourselves an overtly political band, but when we were making New Rituals it was hard to focus on anything else.”

Speaking about New Rituals, Baines lights up in the same way that he talks about the band’s classic albums like No Touch Red and How It Works. It’s a collection of songs that he and his bandmates are exceptionally proud to add to the Bodyjar canon – a gratifying end result for something that was inevitably difficult to make under the circumstances of the last two years. “The studio kept getting shut down, and we had to stop and start probably four different times,” says Baines.

“Funnily enough, we ended up coming up with some of the best songs right when the album was originally supposed to be coming out, which meant we scrapped some of the weaker songs and ultimately came out of it with a better album than we would have made otherwise. We did the legwork, and now we’re ready to play it for everyone on tour.”

New Rituals is out now via Pile Of Sand Records.

Bodyjar will play the Uncaged Festival in Sydney and Brisbane this April, with a headlining tour to be announced for later in the year.