An interview with Total Control.

, 22 December 2011

For those who don’t know, Mikey Young of Australian punk band Total Control is a somewhat eminent musical figure on the DIY punk scene, centered around the fertile music community of Melbourne, Victoria. As the man behind staunchly independent, although commercially successful and critically acclaimed, elemental garage band Eddy Current Suppression Ring, his presence –along with Daniel Stewart of hardcore outfit Straightjacket Nation, plus three others –not only ensures instant cult status among their legion of fans but is a virtual guarantee of quality.

The debut album release Henge Beat comes from a sometimes-band, loosely conceived on the back of some demo-type 7” releases and a handful of live performances going as far back as 2009. Primitive electronics, an aggressive punk vibe come up against each other, while Stewart’s dry vocals thread through the potential instability of stylistic chaos.

Total Control @ Le Poisson Rouge - NYC - photo by Phil Maier © Goutroy
Total Control @ Le Poisson Rouge last month - NYC - photo © Phil Maier / Goutroy

Given such a description of the synth-punk fusion, it won’t come as a surprise that Young is not one to shy away from experimentation, full creative freedom and a liberal attitude to the working life. He quit his day job three years ago in favour of his musical pursuits, including other side-projects around Eddy Current and a burgeoning career as production guy-around-town. Young has recorded and produced for other significant bands, from minimalist duo Fabulous Diamonds to raucous power pop icons Royal Headache, while shirking the opportunity for a full-blown career and sticking to work with the people and bands he likes. Now, in preparation for Total Control’s imminent US tour with Thee Oh Sees, as well as a spot on the ATP Nightmare Before Christmas billing, at the invitation of Les Savvy Fav, Young has dropped everything, taken his savings and relocated to San Francisco for a few months, to soak up the sun and enjoy the relative solitude he so desires. That’s where we find him now, moving around the house to find a good Skype connection and contemplating his next move for band and beyond.

aqnb: So Eddy Current isn’t active at all anymore? Are you on hiatus or have you called it quits?

I’d never call it quits. I don’t ever want to be one of those bands, comeback tours and stuff. I’m just not writing songs for it. I’m the most excited about Total Control and have been for the last year. I’ve got to follow the things that make me the happiest. In six months or a year, I might need a break from Total Control.

aqnb: Do you feel like with the Eddy Current sound, there’s only so far you can push it?

That’s a large part of it, unlike Total Control, which is fairly open to a lot of different possibilities. I started Eddy Current within quite a few boundaries. I wanted to have one guitar sound and Brendan’s such a unique singer that he’s always going to sound the same. So there’s a more limited access to sounds. I don’t really want to make five albums that just sound like that. I think three’s good.

aqnb: When was the first time you played?

Good question. I’d say it would have been 2009. Just after that first 7” came out we played one show. I don’t know what happened but everyone got real busy. I think Eddy Current started touring again and Dan was heading overseas for a bit. I think James [Vinciguerra, drummer] was moving back to Perth so it just never really happened. It was pretty much a year till we ever played again. James moved back and we all had time again. We were just waiting till five people had time on their hands.

Total Control ‘Henge Beat’ by Gilded Gutter

aqnb: When you first started with Dan what was the idea?

I think we were just listening to heaps of The Adolescents and Gary Numan at the time. Somewhere in there were The Screamers but there was no real conceptual idea. I’d say it was somewhere between Gary Numan and the Adolescents. I don’t think we really nailed it on any of the seven inches but I guess the album has a bit of that.

aqnb: I feel the album’s music is almost as divisive as the artwork.

[laughs] Yeah, James got this Swedish dude, Rasmus Svensson to do the artwork and that was one of the mellower ones. The first couple of drafts were even more intense. I think it looks amazing but I thought it would be divisive.

aqnb: Musically, as well, from what I can tell people either loved the really primitive techno of ‘Paranoid Video’ or the raw punk of ‘Retiree’ at the other end. Then you put them together on this album and the response seems split in the middle.

The few people I’ve spoken to have pretty well embraced it as a whole, I think. I always knew there would be an element that couldn’t deal with the new wave-y drum machine stuff. Then there’s going to be a bunch of people who don’t like the heavier stuff at all and would rather it all be like ‘Pyre Island’. But the whole idea of it was to try and bring that whole range of influences together on the album. Maybe just to brace people for the fact it was going to be that diverse. I think it works all right but I realise it would be a pretty hard job to please everyone.

aqnb: I’ve always been of the opinion that if you’re not pissing anyone off, you mustn’t have much to say.

[laughs] Yeah, maybe. I guess I’ve always thought that if you’re just putting out records that people just think are okay, that would make me pretty sad. To get some type of reaction, positive or negative, would be a favorable response.

aqnb: And the positive for Henge Beat seems to equal, if not outweigh, the negative. So you’re doing a pretty good job.

Yeah, I’m stoked so far. Or maybe people just don’t bother writing to me to tell me how much they hate the record [laughs] but most people that have been getting touch seem pretty happy about it.

I imagine it’s harder for Dan. For fans of what he’s done in the past, the album would be harder to take, from a hardcore background. It’s probably not as much of a drastic step for me.

aqnb: Do you mean Brain Children?

Yeah. That was total pop so I don’t think anyone’s that surprised by my involvement in Total Control. If hardcore dudes are going out to buy the record because they’re fans of Dan’s then they might be a bit bummed by some of it.

aqnb: Conceptually, it feels like there’s a real theme running through Henge Beat lyrically, which you’ve then brought together musically. The track listing flows really well.

I don’t think I’ve sequenced it so it tells a story so much. I’m pretty bad at paying attention to lyrics. I’m only good at sequencing things musically.

aqnb: At least sonically?

Yeah, sonically I paid a lot of attention to it. I didn’t want it to be song after song after song. Because it’s so diverse I wanted things to bridge into each other so that nothing was jarring; it still flowed well. I think to an extent it does.

aqnb: You definitely hear how all the songs pay off on each other.

Yeah, I think the idea behind putting the shorter instrumentals between tracks was because the songs sitting next to each other didn’t’ really work, sometimes the shift was too great. The idea was really creating little instrumentals that fit the mood of both songs.

Total Control @ Le Poisson Rouge last monthbis - NYC - photo © Phil Maier / Goutroy
Total Control @ Le Poisson Rouge last monthbis - NYC - photo © Phil Maier / Goutroy

aqnb: Last time I spoke to you it was for the release of your first Eddy Current album, I asked you, if you had a choice, whether it would be a yak in a hill or…

Ah, you were that interview. I remember that question more than most questions.

What was it? Either a yak on a hill or…

aqnb: Fame and fortune.

You know what, I’ve actually thought about that question a lot because I’ve been toying with the idea of moving to the country for a while. I don’t really need to be in the city so much. I got the chance to live down Philip Island for four months this year and housesit. That was my trial of the solo life; not really going to the city and not really hanging out with people. People came to me occasionally but I was mostly just sitting, reading books, making music and watching the waves come in and I didn’t miss the city at all. I was like, ‘this is exactly where I want to be’. So when I get back from this tour next year, I’m going to move to the coast or the country and chill out a bit, I think. I’m an old man.

(photos  © goutroy creepcolony)