When I was a teenager Gerling was my favourite band. Easily. Their sound was the best. Children Of Telepathic Experiences came out just as I began high school and I can remember seeing them play Death To The Apple Gerls and Enter Space Capsule on Recovery and we even covered Ghost Patrol in a very early incarnation of Ghosts Of Television.
Gerling were the first band I ever saw at the Big Day Out in 2000, opening the mainstage with horse heads and laptops and such. Music was real exciting then. We were damn young. When Young Terrorists Chase The Sun, Bad Blood!!! … often playing in my car in those days.
That’s my experience though, and obviously Darren has done many, many things since Gerling and I understand the desire to push on from what people might commonly associate you with. But imagine my amazement when we managed to get him on the bill for Skydreams Festival! I mean what the hell man?
I’ve been organising the festival with Max Skilbeck-Porter, and we only began less than a month ago, and Max just sent off some kind of email to Darren and he just said ‘Yep, sure looks good.’
– Nick Hollins
Max Skilbeck-Porter: I guess most people would know you from your Gerling days, it’s been six years since you put out anything with them, what have you been up to since then?
Darren Cross: Well I started off doing stuff with E.L.F. which has changed a lot, when I started out it was a lot of sample-based stuff and me kind of singing over it, which was the basis for the first EP I put out. The next EP I put out was this full on Crookers techno thing, I was drinking heavily at the time and thought that was a good idea and I put that out on my own label and toured it with just a laptop, which is something I don’t think a lot of people were doing at the time.
All that was pretty weird and confronting and after I just went ‘nah, I don’t really want to tour with that, I’d rather just stay at home and put out an album’ and that was the E.L.F. solo album.
I only did one show with that because I just thought it was too hard to replicate all this production from a laptop and no one really took that seriously. You’ve gotta kind of have a few people on stage pretending to do something here, if you pretend someone is doing something even if they are playing the drums with an orchestra no-one really cares, so yeah I didn’t have enough people.
I put out the album online for free and then I put it out on Bandcamp about six months later with a megaupload link. I also started Betty Airs at that time and that was completely different with no computers at all, just guitars and drums, like a 50s punk thing and then that style became popular and I’ve just put a nail in that now.
Also I started this other thing Jep + Dep which is just me and my girlfriend and that’s heaps better, it’s just me, Jess and a guitar. I mean we could play at this cafe, play in a bus, it’s completely the opposite of what I was doing with the computers.
Also during all that time I started my own production company, Bernstein Studios.
So yeah, that’s what I’ve been up to since Gerling.
M. So what sort of stuff have you been doing through Bernstein Studios?
D. I’ve done all the Betty Airs stuff, all the Jep and Dep stuff, all the E.L.F. stuff … I’ve just finished recording a local band that approached me, they’re called The Bungalows, which are a weird … I dunno, like Goons of Doom, or Modest Mouse on ketamine. They’re from Woolongong and are really nice guys. If musicians approach me and I like the music I’ll probably do it.
I think with the technology that is around these days it’s so cheap to record at home and what I’ve been doing for so many years is trying to make shit recordings made at home with no money sound good, so now I’m in a good position where everyone is trying to do the same thing so I can help them produce it.
M. Have you been producing stuff all through your musical days?
D. Yeah me and Burke (Reid) produced everything, it’s weird that Burke went off and did that whole recording thing (producing The Drones, Oh Mercy etc.) ‘cause he more engineers and produces, but he was really good at computers and stuff, like he was a whizz kid and I didn’t know how to turn a computer on when I met him. I learnt a lot from him and now my whole thing is, well it’s acoustic folk but it’s also fully into the whole production thing.
But yeah, we used to all sit around the computer and come up with things. Presser would always sample stuff, he had a real good ear for that, Burke would program stuff and I would mess around with the all the atmospheric and drone sounds. It would work really well cause we all got along so well.
M. Your latest stuff has that same sort of electronic influence I guess, like with the orchestral sounds in Quit The Day Job. How did you get those sounds?
D. Well that was through live samples and manipulating those sounds. Working with different producers with Gerling taught me a lot as well but to be honest I didn’t really give a fuck about that stuff then. Now I look back and remember Burke just standing around taking photos of where Ethan Johns (Ryan Adams, Tom Jones) would place a mic and stuff and I’d just be like ‘oh where’s a lager!?’. Also working with Magoo and Josh Abrahams, who did that Addicted To Bass song … You learn so much from producers, especially if you want to learn how to do it. Looking back on it I guess I was just a bit more distracted writing songs.
M. Is your setup mainly digital?
D. Yeah it’s just a computer and other things, I just got a sponsorship from Rode mics which is really sweet.
M. How do you go about recording bands?
D. I think it’s important that people get their own sounds, especially with bands, capturing how they sound live. I think it’s good to get bands to record live shows themselves and give the recordings to me afterwards. Then I can tweak it.
M. Have you recorded more than just bands?
D. I haven’t really done any electronic stuff apart from my own and I want to start doing that ‘cause I still do a lot of it. I’ve been doing a lot of minimal hip hop as well, I’ve done a hip hop album recently which is heaps minimal, like Pete Rock and J Dilla style with an MPC and stuff like that. So yeah I’d really like to get into that. A lot of the stuff I’ve seen on the Skydreams site is like krautrock-based or electronic (B. Deep etc.) and I really like that stuff. I saw Lost Animal the other week and stuff like that I’d really like to produce.
M. Obviously the music you make is quite diverse, when you were growing up were the bands that inspired you guys similarly diverse?
D. Yeah I guess, when Gerling first started, and for our first EP, we just had two five-string guitars and drums and we were really vibing off stuff that was coming out of America, not really old stuff but current stuff. There were heaps of guitar bands back then, like Polvo had just started, Pavement had just started and Truman’s Water had just started, also there was Mercury Rev … before Jonathan Donahue ran the ship there was this other guy called Dave Baker and they were amazing.
Aaron Curno who runs Spunk now used to have a radio show on 2SER, and every Monday night me, Presser and Brad (before Burke Reid) would hang out and Aaron would just play all this music and you know you’d have Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Mudhoney and Soundgarden, and then you had all this other shit that was amazing as well, even the mainstream was good back then.
So yeah that was like early 90s and it was a good time for guitar rock. Also, DJ Shadow had just come out and sampling and dance music in Australia was really starting to happen, so it was a cool time. Now I don’t know, I mean I can’t even turn on the radio without vomiting on myself. Though it’s cool my new stuff with Jep + Dep is being played on Rage and that means a lot to me.
M. You mentioned Townes Van Zandt earlier in relation to your new stuff, have you always been a Townes fan?
D. Not really, I lived with a flat mate a few years ago, and before that I wasn’t really into the country thing, but he was like ‘watch this documentary’ (Be Here To Love Me) and it just kind of changed everything for me. At that time I was just kind of over the whole laptop thing, because I’d put so much effort into it and I did a couple of national tours and it just kind of fell on deaf ears and nobody really gave a toss and I was kind of disheartened by it all and so I was like ‘Fuck it, I’ll just write songs on a guitar and I won’t need a P.A. or anything and if it stinks it stinks, if it’s good it’s good and that’s it.’
Also I started to learn all the finger picking stuff like Woody Guthrie and Dylan, and there’s this guy called Fred Sokolow who does all these lessons and is amazing, so I just started vibing off that.
I guess I always felt a lot of country music is kind of cheesy. Don’t get me wrong, I love Glen Campbell but he’s cheesy. Like some of the instrumentation on Waiting ‘Round To Die with the orchestral stuff is really cheesy but you watch him do that live with a barely tuned guitar and it’s just really moving. During his whole career the label was dodgy and his manager owned all his songs, but when you see him in this old footage (youtube it!), barely being able to stand up and completely self-destroyed it’s like, fuck man! This is great!
M. So you’ll be doing a more country style set at Skydreams Festival?
D. Yeah pretty much, I would have loved to do the Jep + Dep thing but Jess is busy, so I’ll just do it by myself acoustically. I was trying to find a Gerling song that I could do acoustically as well but couldn’t think of one that would really sound that good.
M. I guess it should just be left to rest a while.
D. (laughing) Yeah, hand out a bit of that bone, a bit of toe … I think we have a finger left, snap it in half and that’s it! No more! Rest in peace Gerling, please.
M. Sorry if I opened any old wounds!
D. Oh no not at all, I’d love to do another record with Burke down the line.
M. You’ve been based in Sydney for most of the time you’ve been making music, how do you see the music scene has changed?
D. I don’t know to be honest man, like I don’t really go out or read street press, so yeah I don’t really care. I’m not saying that to be cool or anything but I don’t really know. I bumped into Steve from New War, I didn’t even know about New War, but knew him from when he was in Bird Blobs, anyway he was like ‘come check out Lost Animal.’ It was at this new venue called The Square, it took me like 20 minutes to find the place, I was down near the entertainment centre with my iPhone thinking like, ‘what the fuck?!’ But I found it in the end.
The P.A. was kind of crappy but it was cool, it could have been anywhere. There’s venues popping up all over the place and I love the whole kind of ‘do it yourself play in a warehouse’ kind of thing. Same goes for this Skydreams Festival being put on at Hermann’s. I mean Hermann’s … what?! I saw Fugazi there in the 90s and they were amazing. They’ve been a venue that does whatever for ages.
Also I like the R.I.P. Society, they’re really cool. There’s heaps of bands filtering through that I’m hearing and it sounds like 70s punk to me, there’s this band Raw Prawn, and I know this guy in the band and at first I just thought it was a joke and then I heard the music and it was really good, kind of sounds like early Wire or something like that.
M. Do you see Sydney in a state of decline?
D. Well it’s so expensive, the whole politics of getting a gig is hard sometimes. If people just used their brains and were more progressive like they are in Berlin where it doesn’t cost that much to have a bar and a venue and it actually encourages creativity and artistic living … like here it’s so expensive it’s almost unbelievable.
Newtown 15 years ago was really cheap and everything was cool, and now it’s turning into like Paddington and everyone is moving out to Marrickville. Even on King Street there’s not one cool place to go to. The Union is good and for the Jep + Dep thing it’s perfect (acoustic, lo fi) the guy who runs it is a nice guy and fuckin’ nuts.
But if you look up here (Middle of King St.) there’s nothing. People with taste can’t make money in Sydney, I swear to god. If someone gave a young person with a bit of class and brains some money to open a cool venue, that didn’t rip you off for drinks … I mean $9 a beer, who can afford $9 a beer?
M. Just cause it’s from another country
D. Or even another state! The beer’s from Adelaide so they’ll hike it like it’s imported. Fuck that! Stop ripping us off and try and help create and stimulate some sort of culture where the whole intention isn’t to make money and groom all these bands to try and go on and make tonnes of money for some record label. But then I like Sydney, because I don’t feel part of it, you know what I mean?
M. I saw you posted to Facebook that you’re going to Berlin, what are you getting up to over there?
D. Well I went to Berlin about 10 years ago and that was before it became this sort of ‘thing’. Like I went there last year and I bumped into all these people that I don’t even see in Sydney. This’ll be my third time over. I’ve made friends with a German guy over there and he has a studio so I’ll do some music over there for a few months, and it’s really cheap and so close to the rest of Europe.
But yeah Berlin, it’s really inspiring to me, like the whole history of the place. And getting back to what I was saying before, they keep it cheap and public transport is cheap, I mean you don’t even see ticket inspectors there, you can go there and live really cheaply and see so much inspiring shit and be around all sorts of different people, although it has changed a lot from 10 years ago.
M. Like it’s become gentrified?
D. Yeah, I mean it’s not what it used to be but it’s still great.
M. Do you see yourself playing music the rest of your life?
D. I think so, yeah. Music is so broad, like if you told me I’d be doing duet Frank Sinatra style music 10 years ago I would have probably chucked a schooner of beer in your face and stormed off. But yeah that’s how it works, I find everything musical is challenging you know? Like when you’re just playing guitar you can’t make mistakes, if you play the wrong chord or sing out of key everyone can hear you so it forces you to rehearse.
Like with Gerling we barely even rehearsed, if at all! We’d just plug our guitars in and if they didn’t work we’d just chuck em on the ground, there was a much more punk rock attitude to that band.
But yeah there’s always challenges to find in music, especially with the production thing. I’d really like to start recording with some cool bands and get a name out there, offer some alternative to whatever is happening at the moment.
Darren Cross is appearing at Skydreams Festival on September 8th!
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