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Potion on being Sydney Festival’s harbingers of doom

At the peak of Summer in Sydney, Australia, you’ll find a festival buzzing throughout the city, celebrating culture, creativity and the questioning mind. That is, of course, the Sydney Festival, the banner under which Sydney doom metal trio Potion will be performing later this month. Taking place at 1970s bar culture venue The Weary Traveller in Martin Place’s iconic Seidler mushroom building, Potion will treat hometown metallers to a night of doom that’s both nostalgic and new – and you wouldn’t want to miss it (nor their lineup mates, Last Ride Records’ Histamine). We caught up with members Lee Jowono & Stella Leung to talk about the show.

What was the brief you got on The Weary Traveller series – what got you involved?

Lee: It was pretty random, really. Sydney Festival just reached out to us and ‘cause we’re a heavier band, it’s not the kind of show we’d usually be pitched to play. So they hit us up randomly and told us basically the venue is this members only club that’s putting on shows for the month, it’s coated in red velvet…We just thought it’d be something different and it’s really cool to be a part of.

How does it feel to be that metal band, the non-traditional, non-mainstream kind of artist that doesn’t usually get the tap on the shoulder?

Lee: We definitely play to a certain audience and we’re used to a certain audience. Because we play doom, which is more, it is extreme metal but it’s a more accessible form of extreme metal ‘cause it’s clean vocals, it’s slower and stuff. So I’m always surprised when we find out that we do have that kind of appeal, and people in the mainstream do get what we’re doing. It feels nice.

It always feels good as a fan as well, to see what you like being represented. What has the reception from your audience been like outside of this? You’ve been touring over the last year in the post-pandemic landscape.

Lee: It’s been really good. After the pandemic, we were just so keen to play again. As soon as it looked like things were opening up again, we had already booked most of the year, so it was a little bit of a matter of overcompensating because we just missed playing. There were some sit-down shows going on during the virus, but we didn’t play any of those ‘cause we were like, even for our genre we’re a bit more energetic, and I felt it would be awkward. So we didn’t play any shows during the break and then we overbooked last year and played so much.

Did it feel different, in the way that your audience engaged with you or the number of people that showed up? Or is it like the pandemic never happened?

Stella: I definitely feel like the audience is way more enthusiastic and way more…They move a lot more now, whereas before, everyone was pretty chill? We’re not a moshy kind of heavy band so people tend to just sort of headbang in one spot, but now I’m seeing a lot of people moving. People were even stage-diving at our Canberra show, which has never happened. So we definitely feel like there’s a lot more energy now, since after the pandemic. People just generally seem way more excited to come to shows, and I think as well, ‘cause we haven’t had international bands for so long, I feel like there’s a lot of excitement around local bands.

We have a feature called “A punk guide” where we ask international bands about their cities. If you were doing a guide to Sydney, what are the venues you would shout out?

Lee: I’ve been playing music since I was in high school and Sydney was always kind of random venues – you would play where you could. In the last 10 years, we had both Frankie’s and Crowbar. So for being a metalhead like all our lives, it was like a dream come true to have two metal bars in Sydney. Frankie’s is unfortunately gone now, but we love Crowbar so much, they look after you so well when you play there. The sound is amazing, the food is amazing, and we’re so thankful for Crowbar. In Sydney, that’s our home venue, I would say.

What’s on the cards for 2023?

Lee: Like I said, after the lockdown we kind of overbooked and played so much, and I think that did actually distract from writing the record, so now that we’ve got recording time booked, we don’t have really much planned for the year. We’re kind of putting all our effort into the writing so we can actually get it done instead of being distracted by playing shows.

In terms of the metal scene in Australia right now, do you have any friends or bands you’re inspired by that you wanna plug?

Lee: We’ve always been really inspired by our friends – there’s a Melbourne doom band called Holy Serpent. Before we started this band, they were one of my favourite bands in the scene, and the first show we played with them, they were immediately our best friends, which was such a good feeling – admiring these musicians and then getting along with them so well and having it reciprocated. Holy Serpent from Melbourne, they don’t need a plug but we love them. Ill Natured from Newcastle are one of my favourite Australian bands, a hardcore band. And Speed, obviously, but they don’t need any help. Also, Blind Girls from Brisbane.

You guys used Pinhead from Hellraiser on the poster for your last tour – can you talk to me about your influences?

Lee: I played in hardcore bands before this band, for most of my twenties. And the thing in hardcore was always, it was kind of anti-image and you know, I was in bands where I didn’t even wanna do promo shoots because it wasn’t cool. So when we started this band, I just wanted to put everything that I loved, and everything me and Stella, we live together and we’re a couple, all of the stuff that we’re into and we listen to at home, we wanted to put it all into this band. Horror is a huge, huge part of our lives, basically all we do is sit at home and watch horror movies. It’s been fun with this band, ‘cause it’s a doom band, we can have fun and include all of the movies we love and the imagery we love.

What are your favourite horror movies?

Lee: I really love The Shining. I think The Shining is the greatest movie of all time.

Stella: Poltergeist. For some new ones, maybe The Witch, I love Robert Eggers. Anything he does is amazing.

Lee: I’m obsessed with Tobe Hooper who did Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Stella: Oh and Ti West, who did X.

Lee: And Pearl!

Potion & Histamine at Sydney Festival

Friday, January 27th
The Weary Traveller, Sydney
Tickets: Sydney Festival