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In Conversation with Jim McCullough of CIVIC (Interview by Dexter K.)

Australian punk rockers CIVIC launch their first-ever US tour later this month, with a stop in Detroit at The Sanctuary on October 11. Frontman Jim McCullough joined WCBN’s Dexter Kaufmann to discuss CIVIC’s new record and give a crash course on the history of Punk Music in Australia. Catch them live, and listen to Dexter’s radio show Baby Blue, Tuesdays 2/3 pm on WCBN.

Dexter Kaufmann: Your album and your upcoming tour are both called Taken by Force. Which song on the album are you most looking forward to playing live?

Jim McCullough (CIVIC): Oh, I mean, End of the Line. The first track’s always a fun one to play live, just because Lewis’s guitar comes in with that riff.

DK: The new album has surfing imagery on the album art, the last song has some beach wave sounds, and the song Trick of the Light, which is my favorite on the album, has a surf rock psychedelic sound that tonally sounds very different to the rest of your discography. How did you choose to go with that aesthetic and sound?

JM: I think it’s one of those things where we wanted it to be a record that you can put on and then listen through and then flip it and listen to it again, and I think to get that you kind of need to have a moment or two on the record where it kind of slows down or might change pace a little bit. Also, having a slow song is important. You can’t just do fast songs the whole time, you know. 

DK: Yeah, you got to give the mosh pit a chance to rest a little. 

JM: Exactly, man, yeah. 

DK: This is your first-ever US tour. Had you been to the United States before, or is this your first time? 

JM: This is my first time. Well, we played South by Southwest in March, which was fun. We played like 12 shows in three days, which was a bit psycho. But yeah, this is I mean it’s our first tour here and it’s mine and Eli’s first time coming over here as well. 

DK: Was CIVIC the first choice for your band name, or did you have a few other ideas floating around before you landed on that one? 

JM: We had heaps man, it was a conversation in our group chat, throwing band names around for probably a good two or three weeks and then finally we just stuck with CIVIC. There were some fucking bad ones. I think one of them was Diamond Dust.

DK: When your band was just starting, did you already have a full set of originals to play, or were you relying on covers to fill out the setlist? 

JM: Actually no. We’d all been in bands before, so we kind of wanted to stay in the jam room and get a bunch of songs together before we even hit the stage. That was always the plan, to have a record finished and recorded before we played our first show, which is what we did. We played our first show in 2018 with all original songs. That was just our plan and it seemed to work pretty well because, you know, people start talking about you and then you know, after a month or two, and then you just drop your first record. Sometimes people leave a bit too long between coming out and then releasing the music. 

DK: I guess that was kind of a big risk, where you’re making this new music and you have no idea how a live audience will react to it, but it seems like it paid off. 

JM: Well, I think at the time, Dexter, there weren’t too many people, doing that kind of sound, the dual guitar kind of vibe, at least in Melbourne at that time. So we sort of felt, maybe, that it needed that. So we were kind of confident in it, we knew that it would work. 

DK: At least in America, almost every city has a distinct music scene. Is there a similar situation in Australia, and if so, what’s Melbourne’s signature sound?

JM: There are so many bands in Melbourne, you could go out every single night if you wanted to and see a band, like there’s fucking millions, so I don’t know, but that’s a good question. In terms of punk, I guess I would think that maybe there’s like that dull, wavy kind of sound like maybe not so much these days, but like I always think of Dolewave, like you know, like bands like the Stevens and like Terry and Boomgates and stuff like that. I would say that there is a sound for sure, but it’s hard to put your finger on.

DK: WCBN is based in Michigan, which has such a distinct sound. Even when you leave Motown, you’ve also got, you know, basically, the origins of punk, coming from Detroit and Ann Arbor. And so I wanted to do a little game where I bring up artists and you have to guess whether they’re from Michigan or not. Are you ready?

JM: Let’s do it, man, alright. 

DK: The first one is Stevie Wonder. 

JM: Michigan 

DK: That’s correct, Lou Reed? 

Not Michigan

DK: Correct, very good. Up next, Dead Kennedys?

Not Michigan 

DK: Nice, you know your stuff. The White Stripes? 

JM: Not Michigan 

DK: Incorrect, they are from Michigan, they’re from Detroit. MC5? 

JM: Well, yeah, well, they’re more Detroit, weren’t they? 

DK: Yeah! MC5 stands for Motor City Five, alright, Black Flag. 

JM: No

DK: Correct, they’re from California. And last but not least, the Stooges.

JM: Well, they’re from Detroit as well

DK: Sort of! They’re partially from Detroit, but Iggy Pop is from Ann Arbor, which is where WCBN is based. The Stooges have a song called “1970”, in which they say “Radio Burnin’” but an Australian band heard it incorrectly and they took their name from it. As you can probably guess, that band is Radio Birdman. Can you just tell us about how they’ve influenced Australian punk music? 

JM: Yeah, Dennis Tek, his guitar sounds, and Rob Younger’s voice. As a band in general, they would fucking do shit that no one was doing at the time. You know you and I could listen to it now and it still stands up as one of the fucking best Australian bands and also that would have been classified as quite heavy back then. I think there’s some footage of them playing in Sydney and Rob’s in his 20s or some shit and he’s got long red hair down to his fucking ass and this sick tiger jacket on and I don’t know. They were just super ahead of their time, I think.

DK: They seem like they’re sort of playing the role of influencing the next generation too. Rob Younger helped produce your newest record. How did you cross paths and what did you learn from him? 

JM: So it was one of my ex’s parents. They were friends with him and we were hanging out one time and my ex’s dad was like, “You should get Rob to produce your record”. And I was like as if he’s gonna fucking want it. He probably doesn’t even know who we are. And he’s like, “I’ll reach out to him”. And I was like, yeah, all right. 

The next day, I was just chilling, and then my phone rang and I was like, oh, who’s that? And I answered and it was Rob Younger on the phone. 

I respect this guy as much as Iggy Pop, in my opinion, he’s that important, you know, for Australian music. We just got along straight away and he said he’d been following us, and liked New Vietnam. It was such a spin-out, you know, and he wanted to do a record. After the pandemic, he was a bit cautious, because he’s in his 70s and stuff, but he came down and was with us for the whole recording process, which was fucking pretty cool to have him around. 

DK: Where did you record it? Did you do it yourselves or did you go to a studio? 

JM: Well, we’ve always typically done it ourselves, Dexter. So like we did this at our friends’ parents’ house out in Alpingstone, which is just kind of out in the bush. Our mate’s dad worked across the road in a foundry, he makes bronze sculptures and shit and he slept in the foundry and he let us have the whole house and we just set up shop in the house for the week and lived in there and recorded in there. It was a really special week, you know. 

I romanticized this idea of doing it out at home because once you’ve gotten to the studio it’s hard to go back. You know, like because with Future Forecast we recorded at the Pizzard Studio. But after that, we thought that we could do this ourselves. You know, because our drummer Blatchy had started recording bands. 

I think it sounds great for a home recording, but we’re definitely keen to get in a studio for the next one and make it bigger. It’s kind of like a glass ceiling, where you get to a point with home recording where you can only get it to a certain point and it’s that’s kind of as far as you can go.

DK: Do you remember what the first record you bought was? And do you remember what the last record you bought was? 

JM: Morning Glory by Oasis was the very first CD I ever bought, and the last record I bought was Poison Ruin by Harvest.

DK: In 2000, Sydney, Australia hosted the Olympics. The opening ceremony had Olivia Newton-John and Human Nature. But in the 23 years since, Australian music has just exploded and produced some of the biggest artists in the world. If they selected you to be in charge of the new Australian Olympic opening ceremony, who would be some of the musicians that you choose to represent your country?

JM: I’d probably pick Kirin J. Callinan. I think he would be amazing at an opening. Next, Eddy Current Suppression Ring, and then HTRK. If anyone doesn’t know them, you should check them out because they’re amazing. And also the comedian, Carl Barron, and that would be it.

DK: That would probably be the weirdest and the coolest opening ceremony they’ve ever done, but I’m on board. You’ve talked about some current bands from Australia that you like, and some past Australian bands that have influenced you. Who do you think is going to be the next big band out of Australia?

JM: Have you heard the band Dust

DK: Sounds very familiar. I don’t know if I have, I gotta get more hip on the Australian scene, but this is why I’m doing this interview. 

JM: They’re these young kids from Newcastle, which is kind of in the middle of fucking nowhere, between Sydney and Melbourne. We’ve played with them a bunch of times, we hung out with them and they have a refreshing sound. If they can write a fucking banging record, they could be really big. Shout out to the dust boys. 

DK: Is there a piece of gear, whether it’s a pedal or a guitar, that you’ve consistently used when you’re recording or playing with CIVIC? 

JM: Lewis has got some fucking cool gear. He’s got this old Japanese, fake Fender Mustang that he uses and it’s the sickest. He can get a tone out of fucking anything, but that specific guitar sounds amazing. 

DK: If there was an asteroid coming for Earth and you were given the ox core to play one last song for humanity to hear, what song do you want people to hear? 

JM: The Whole of the Moon by The Water Boys

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