Won’t someone think of the children?
One of the oddest experiences with Blake Scott, for me, has been playing the music he’s made with the band he has spent 10 years with, The Peep Tempel, to journalism students I am teaching.
As they’ve read about the second and third Peep Tempel albums, Tales and Joy, and watched the hyper media-conscious video for the song Rayguns, their reaction has often been a mix of incomprehension and horror at a band who have made some of the most exciting, in-your-face and energised music of recent years.
“It was probably the bike shorts man,” says an amused Scott of that video. “It’s a bit of karma because I wasn’t meant to be in the bike shorts. I turned up with the costumes for that clip and I bought those bike shorts for Steve [Carter, the drummer] but the director had other ideas unfortunately. I was hoping to get the Fitzroy jumper. But anyway.”
I explain to him that even more than the bike shorts – which are hard to miss it must be said - it is the combination of strong political approach in tense and assertive rock, with no pretence to being anything but suburban working class, done in a clearly articulate, openly masculine manner, that comfortable middle-class kids have found confronting.
“If you look back at things like Wu-Tang and NWA, even some of the guttural Nirvana, you don’t really get that anymore in the mainstream,” he says of the rawness, both in social consciousness and sound.
Yes, but there’s more at play here with Scott, as Niscitam, his first solo album – recorded during a break for the band, and after the birth of his first child, a son - shows. Rich with imagery that is unashamedly poetic, filled with language that is equally unashamedly Australian, and often half-spoken like a kind of intense book reading, Niscitam shows that while intensely conscious of the implications for people in the realm of capital vs labour, one thing about Scott is that he doesn’t run from a full and frank exploration of human capital.
Take for example the song Bone Heavy, which is emotionally heavy and touches on issues which might resonate with any parent seeing beneath the surface story of a man caught in dangerous waters.
“With Bone Heavy I went down the Powlett River mouth and I really did have that, awakening is not the word, but everything almost became a sort of dream sequence. And I was incredibly overcome with emotion about what was ahead,” he says. “I hadn’t been alone for a very long time, when I wrote that song. I hadn’t had any time to just be with myself and I had been in a farmhouse by that time for four or five days and I hadn’t spoken with or seen anyone. I’ve always been a strong swimmer and I had that moment where I thought, wow, fuck, this may be something I can’t control: this ocean isn’t something I have control over and I need to get outta here and keep myself safe.
“And what came from that was feeling as though I was out of my depth, and also excitement about what was ahead and having the little guy maybe down there wandering through the dunes.”
There’s little doubt that Scott is as passionate about this personal story as he is the political ones. Or maybe they’re all related. And he isn’t going to hold back.
“I just think it’s really important for me, when I’m writing, to stay the course emotionally. I just don’t see any other way to get to what I would consider myself a satisfactory result, which is honesty,” he says. “Maybe it’s to the detriment of certain songs at times where I could make it a little easier to consume, but I really do think now that has passed me by. I’m 38, this all goes out on a label I’m involved with, everything we do with built ourselves and I think, well if there’s one thing I’ve earnt is to be honest, to enjoy that honesty and at the end of it go, well that is how I felt and I’ve done the absolute best I can to articulate it.”
It’s a cliché but it’s a cliché because it’s true, that men generally, Australian men notoriously, are seemingly more prone to channelling emotions like love and fear and loss into anger and physical response. But it doesn’t have to be that way. How does he channel that kind of thinking in some of his characters but at the same time expand the possibilities for them?
“I’ve seen so much of it. I’ve seen a lot of violence,” Scott says. “When I was young, when I was a teenager, I was a really angry guy. Right up until the Peep Tempel started I was an angry guy, but I don’t think there’s any risk of me now being physically violent, whereas when I was younger there was.
“There’s so much to unpack and I guess it’s incredibly frustrating to live in an environment where it is a very alpha masculine environment. I’m in my little [Melbourne] bubble now but it doesn’t take much to travel out of that and see that it’s still a major issue that young men, for the most part, don’t feel as though they are able to communicate anything that could be seen as soft, like love or fear or anything like that.”
Having his son now has only reinforced Scott’s view that in the main, no one is born “bad” but we have built social environments where people – especially young men – are still reluctant to see expressing themselves in all their shades as acceptable. And he need look no further than his own life and work.
“It’s interesting too, the records. I listened to the first [Peep Tempel] record the other night and I found that quite unsettling. The anger on that record is dank, it really sticks to the listener. I feel like I am the listener now because I feel very removed from that, but I still feel as though I understand it,” Scott says.
“I recently was asked if I feel that everything I do is very Australian, do I see myself as an Australian singer and songwriter. Well, I am. I haven’t travelled that much, my music and my art is a product of my environment, and the journey, like everyone’s, hasn’t always been smooth sailing. I’m very lucky to have that outlet but a lot of people don’t have that outlet and a place that they can safely communicate feelings.”
Even if they had that place, not everyone can be as articulate about them.
“Even a relationship, in relationships, there is so much in it. There’s the personal side of things and how you deal with them, there’s also how that affects another person.”
Lightening the mood a little, he adds, “It’s a very difficult this, being human” and laughs.
So does he believe, as one song title on the album has it, that love is the revelator?
“Yeah I do, yeah, absolutely. It’s been the most important thing in my life.” Scott says. “I grew up in a very loving environment, not without its faults because we are human, but I felt loved and supported my entire life. Not just through my family but through the people I have come across and work closely with, and through that love and support I felt confident enough to pursue things like music and what I wanted to do. I’ve been very privileged a lot of people just don’t have that, don’t have love. And that’s expressed love you know.
“Back to what we were talking about, it just so many people out there who don’t know how to express that they love somebody or that they love their kids, and it’s fucking big-time damage. So I do, I do think love’s the revelator.”
A couple of years ago, in an interview with Mikey Cahill, Scott declared himself more positive, indeed a reasonably positive person. Is that still true?
“I’m doing my absolute best,” he says. “Positivity on levels of how I’m going to be as a father and a partner, and how life is going to be: the insular question of that, yeah I’m very positive. But then there’s the external: the planet, climate change, stuff like that, and where we are heading, and no I’m not positive at all; I’m terrified.
“I think I’m reasonably proactive. I mean, sometimes not emotionally and instantly - it takes time - but I think I’m always, and this is what I do have to be careful of, always pushing myself forward in some way. And that also is where I risk sometimes getting in that cycle of ignoring what’s important. But to your question: positive? Yeah. I’m certainly pursuing positive and I think I am much better at it than I was when I was younger.”
Niscitam is out now on Wing Sing Records.