A Punk rock Legend once sang “London is drowning, and I live by the river”, and it’s a line on rare occasion that does come to mind, as for the time being, it is and I do. The Thames, snaking its way through London like a dirty drain, is enjoying a brief moment of fulfilment as the banks rise in celebration of one of the wettest summers in memory (my memory, that is). Umbrellas arc the air as the rains fall, washing down the filthy streets, framing the mood and forcing you indoors. It’s drinking weather, but in England this phrase has no meaning. Happy hour is dictated by you, enforced by you, and in regular rock and roll parlance, the question of “what time is it?” is quickly answered with “time for a drink”. This is where I happen to find my old friends, hung-over and holding court in a North London boozer, looking as surly as shit and up for a scrap, the Australian band appropriately known as The Scare.
Boredom can give you the inspiration to create and youthful abandon the wings to take you anywhere, and it took these five angry young men from Brisbane no time at all to realise that continually touring Australia playing to the same audiences is a slow and painful death for a band. There aren’t enough venues and towns to sustain a decent tour and the distances between states, the roads travelled, and the time taken will rarely match the money spent to get there. In American and England, a tour is something that will last at minimum a month and will take you around the country.
In Australia, a tour can be over in a week and you’ll be playing to people who don’t know who you are, nor could care less. There are those out there who are happy to play it safe, hoping to build on turning a few heads along the way, working within what they know, never leaving the country. Then there are the scarce few willing to take a chance outside of the home comforts. For better of worse, The Scare chose the latter, moving to the UK in mid-2006, ignoring the magnetic musical pull of London for Birmingham, the hometown of the mighty Black Sabbath, for the better part of a year while they wrote, toured, drank, and hopefully lived to tell the tale. Formed in Brisbane in 2004, The Scare not so much deliver but thrust blade-first, a raucous, volatile noise, in the tradition of Australian bands of old like The Birthday Party and The Scientists, forging their own dark punk rock sound that marks them an anomaly within their own country but outside of which, inherently Australian.
At first glance they’re a daunting sight. Bassist Wade Keighran looks like a no-nonsense brawler but speaks with a literary heart. He’s the type of guy who’d happily settle a fight on your behalf and think nothing of it. Drummer Samuel Pearton is effusive and charming, his bleach blonde hair designating him as the first fashion plate of the band, while guitarist Liam O’Neill is the other, sunglasses hanging from the lip of his white t-shirt, black braces holding up a pair of rake-thin jeans. Both of these boys fit under the charge of “most likely to steal your girlfriend”, but I’d lay my money on Liam. There’s an air of sardonic cool that hangs around second guitarist Brock Fitzgerald like a second suit and singer Kiss Reid is something else, though this usually depends on the hour of the day, and the day in question.
It’s the afternoon of their final London show before returning to Australia to prepare for the release of their debut album Chivalry and all backline gear for tonight’s show has accidentally been taken to the airport after playing the Leeds leg of the Carling Festival, leaving the band in a last minute mad scramble to find amps to borrow, coming close to cancelling the show twice. It may be something The Scare would take in their stride, but there are limits to the amount of times fate can fuck with you before you start getting your back up and wondering “why us?” Despite their passion and determination, they’re still to get the crucial break here that will open doors and give them the opportunity as a band to grow. It’s something of a sore point for the only unsigned band to play on one of the major stages at 2007’s Carling Festival. The frustration and irony in this shows on the face of Wade Keighran, standing in the bar of the Famous Cock pub in Islington wryly aware that his finances won’t even stretch to afford a beer. When you know how much these boys enjoy drinking (flashbacks to summer in Sydney encamped in the Gaslight Hotel while recording their debut) this is a sad time.
London is the city where anything can happen. It’s home to the overnight sensation, be it fleeting or forever. You can play a show on Friday and be catapulted onto the cover of the NME before you’ve had time to shake the hangover and ditch the girl. No other city in the world works likes this. For The Scare, being touted in the street press, played on Radio 1, their name rolling off the lips of the influential and the impressed, their modest rises and falls have been a humbling experience.
For some bands breaking London as an unknown entity from another country can ultimately be an uphill battle with little ground won, and with the cost of living in England being so high, it’s not a venture that can last indefinitely. Success and notoriety are not mutually exclusive, and the future of any band seeking admittance in the UK market relies on more than a few column inches and some sympathetic radio play.
Mentioning this to Wade, he sighs audibly and gives me a weary look that says more than it needs to. “Breaking London wasn’t a waste of time because playing music is never a waste of time. We never really broke into London and, right back at us they never invited us in. We purposely didn’t go straight to the big smoke for a few reasons. We knew and read about the fact that anywhere outside Australia is over-saturated with bands. Fucking bands everywhere. Awful bands. Serious bands. Semi-serious bands. Bands that come and go. We felt that staying away from major cities and scenes we could forge our own thing. We perpetually do this with almost everything. Some would say it’s pre-emptive self defense and they may be onto something. We’ve always had to defend ourselves and back ourselves a hundred percent so staying away from London and trying to break off a piece there just wasn’t our idea of how we wanted to start, and essentially, we knew that moving to England was starting again.”
Having been paid to record some demos in a studio in France for future record company consumption, it was inevitable for The Scare to be courted by prospective homes with the promise of what could lie ahead if they were willing to compromise on their sound and their approach, something that you’d probably expect from the fame hungry English acts, but less so from a group of stubborn, principled Australians. “We had a few lunches and meetings, you know the stories you’ve heard over the years from countless other hopefuls about extravagant lunches and business shit talk. ”
“I remember one lunch where a label which will remain nameless but starts with F and rhymes with diction came down and threw a Bronx single on the table (he said it was just a random CD he had in his car) and said you guys need to write a record like that. We thought what the hell for? You’ve got a Bronx CD in your car. You’ve probably got a few in your office. What the hell do you want a similar or same record for, you fucking suit?! It got to a point where we just said, let’s go home and do the record and come back and fucking throw it at them and say fucking ha ha. We did the record and came back and just knew that if we were looking for a label and spent and exhausted ourselves looking and shopping around and used all our energy for that then it would detract from the fun of touring and the fun of being ourselves. So we just came back to England and did our own thing. We’re not going near labels. I hope they don’t come near us just yet. Let us become a fucking unstoppable force on our own then come to us and ask what you can do for us, not what we will do for you.”
With this in mind, the Scare continued on unbounded, setting up more shows and gathering support as best as they could. A 7″ single “Bats! Bats! Bats!” was released on indie label Dance to the Radio to favourable reviews and it seemed as if the cards were beginning to turn in their favour. For a band so stridently outsider, The Scare were able to sneak themselves onto the bill at nearly every major English music festival this summer, including Wireless, Download and the Carling Festival.
“The festival circuit was a humbling yet motivational experience. About two weeks before the announcement I remember sitting with Sam in Birmingham. We were homeless and overstaying our welcome on floors all over the city. It’s hard to put 5 guys up I guess, anyway, we were both pretty jaded and ready for the end. No money, no visas, no home, no food. We were in the backyard and we both just started crying because we knew we had to hold on just a little bit longer and we knew that telling each other that wouldn’t make this whole thing any easier. We just sat and cried it out and both knew that holding on was a better option than fucking off back to Sydney. So we held on and a week went by and suddenly we were hot property and we confirmed all these festival dates and we booked our own tour because we got sick of waiting for the right one to come along.”
“So then we start getting all these emails of congratulations from friends and family and fans back home. We were thinking, well we must be something, they don’t just put any little band on the NME stage at Reading and Leeds. We are really starting to make this work, which is a far fucking cry from where we were in the backyard of a friends house a week ago. We show up for these festivals thinking we’re on top of our game and we realise that we are just small pieces in a bigger game. So it was humbling in that respect. I’m still not sure how we got those festivals. I’d like to think it was all our hard work and slumming.”
Which brings us to the Buffalo Bar in North London, the site of their recent show with influential 70’s band Suicide, a pairing that members of the band still look back on in awe. It’s a small dingy venue, hidden under the pub where I initially caught up with the boys. Ironically it used to be an Australian themed pub, where underneath a thin coat of black paint, you can still see hackneyed phrases like “don’t come the raw prawn with me” painted onto the walls. There’s no beer on tap, capacity at best is around two-hundred people once everyone is shoe-horned in and with the stage about a foot off the floor, the crowd almost stand shoulder to shoulder, eye to eye, with the band. Once near capacity is reached, The Scare quickly take stage, forcing a small rush to the front by a pack of young predatory ladies.
They open up with the punk foot stomp of “Eighty Eights”, Sam Pearton bashing away at his kit as the rest of the band follow suit, the bass sliding in and twin guitar necks slicing the air like sabres. Their set is so deeply ingrained that they now play with enough conviction and spirit that you feel like you’re watching a band on top of its game. A small cheer is let out as the bass-line to recent single “Bats! Bats! Bats!” rolls out, and it’s at this point that Kiss launches himself into the audience, howling, like a starved Iggy Pop, crawling along the floor. “Cry Junkie” from their Vacuum Irony EP closes the quick-fire set to a round of stunned applause, the band slumped over their instruments breathless and exhausted. Before returning to the UK to finish the festival dates they stopped in to play a couple of showcase gigs in Los Angeles and San Diego and found the response from the audiences there much more favourable than what they’ve come to experience back in London.
“Los Angeles was a real rock ‘n’ roll blur for me. There’s something about that town. I had a great time there, really. It was over way too soon for me. I’m a massive Charles Bukowski fan and even earlier than him John Fante, and driving around L.A just made those books feel way more alive. The whole place just lit up inside me. It was weird. I just walked and walked for hours. I had fucking no money, no food. I had my back pack full of clothes and a bottle of duty free whiskey, and it didn’t matter. We played 3 shows while we were there. Each one was really different. The last show we did there was by far the best. It’s the best first impression we’ve ever received. Usually it takes a city two or three cracks a year to get the buzz and the people going but that last night, at Cinespace, was fucking pumping. We were only there for about 4 days and I don’t think I slept till we left for Heathrow.”
“We were staying right in fucking Hollywood which to the other guys was a massive disappointment but for me I knew exactly what to expect and got it. It’s not big like in the movies, it’s shitty and run down but there is a weird nostalgia that bleeds in you when you get your photo with the Hollywood sign in the background. Los Angeles was different to England for me in the fact that when I moved to England and hung around London it didn’t match what everyone had told me about it. It wasn’t ahead of the fashion and music. It wasn’t that grey, it just wasn’t what everyone told me. I didn’t mind. I love England, I want to live there full time, but Los Angeles was everything I had in my head, exactly. Probably from reading all those Bukowski books…”The band returned to Australia in January 2007 to record their debut album in Sydney with producer Scott Horscroft (previous credits include Silverchair, The Presets, Sleepy Jackson).
Something as simple as putting their live set on record wasn’t without its moments as the entire band went on a mammoth month-long bender where a guitarist was mugged at gunpoint, a singer went missing, and then later turned up only to have caught pneumonia which shelved finishing the album until after the rest of the band returned to England to prepare for more shows. The first taster from the album which would be called Chivalry was “Bats! Bats! Bats!”, the most definitive slice of the Scare sound to date. The album itself at times sounds like Guns N’ Roses Appetite for Destruction as played by The Misfits. It’s full of blood and bluster, cut-throat guitar riffs and two-fisted bass-lines that dig deep into your skin.
The highlight of Chivalry and the point where the band take an abrupt U-turn from the wrecking yard is during “Not In Love” a duet with Holiday Carmen-Sparks of the barely legal Sydney outfit Bridezilla. Here is the sound of another band entirely, dropping the poses and pulling down their sleeves, showing a maturity and an ability to evolve while in the studio. “Recording the album finally made us feel like a whole band. We knew from the start we were going to have a method to the madness but the madness took over a few times. For starters we were probably drinking too much during the time there. Looking back on it, it seems like it was too much. Just crazy excessive, for no reason other than getting stir crazy in the studio. We need to work on that, but other than all that stupid party shit it was a great experience. It was alive. Everybody around us knew it. The songs were coming out great, we were tight as hell during the live tracking, we all felt like we were a part of something amazing right there and then.”
“When Kiss got really sick it kind of put the brakes on a bit, so then we started just experimenting with other instruments and percussion because he couldn’t do vocals but we had all this allocated time to be productive and we were already going ridiculously over budget. So that’s all in there, you know, drink gin and think, ‘Man that bit right there needs some droning shit and some bells and shakers behind it, let’s drink more and get in there and party on it’ sorta stuff. We all just looked at each other when it was done and we just said, ‘That’s it’. It’s what we wanted. First record done. Let’s get to work. So we did.”
Apres-show and it’s a sombre moment with the band milling out the front of the venue, road weary and stage tired, loading gear away and counting down their last hours in London. It feels like the end of an era that began over a year ago with a bunch of cocksure Brisbane teenagers playing their first show to a wary London crowd, announcing by way of hello to the audience “We’re the Scare from Australia, what the fuck are you looking at?” as the walls began to vibrate and all hell breaks loose. They’ve grown as a band in ways I don’t think they even realise, but as the tube station pulls down its shutters and the venue locks its doors, there’s no more time left for reminiscing and nothing else left but to say goodbye, each member slowly pulling away from the pack one by one, heading off to find a floor to sleep on, or even better a bed and a bottle of wine. Such is the way of The Scare for now.