The Buddhist concept of the ‘hungry ghost’ neatly sums up the urgency, the want, the search of Violent Soho’s music. Amid the riffs, hooks and wail of frontman Luke Boerdam is a stark examination of the way we view the world, and the way consumer culture feeds relentlessly on itself and its urges. A fitting theory for an unapologetic, no-bullshit post-grunge cacophony, as laid bare on the Brisbane four-piece’s second album, Hungry Ghost.
Following 2010’s accomplished self-titled album (their second, following We Don’t Belong Here in 2008), which delivered riffage-heavy highlights such as ‘Jesus Stole My Girlfriend’ and ‘Muscle Junkie’, the band found themselves at an impasse. Even though they’d been a band since 2004 — they’re all friends from school — after nearly playing 250 shows around the world in a year of touring, they suddenly found themselves treading water creatively.
Attempts to write new songs were met with a frustrating lack of inspiration. “I found myself writing the same thing over and over,” says Luke. “It was boring and crap. It was kinda depressing: I felt like I couldn’t write any more.”
But what it took to snap Luke and his bandmates — James Tidswell (guitar/vocals), Luke Henery (bass) and Michael Richards (drums) — out of the funk was a realisation that all of their touring and experiences had given them a new perspective on music; hard work and that new thematic inspiration would lead to its own reward.
“It was a process of figuring out what we did like,” Luke explains, “rather than concentrating on what we used to do. We’ve changed and grown as people, so the music we were writing needed to reflect that. Whatever excited us, those are the songs that we went with.”
The band had rediscovered that passion and energy. Following the release double A-side ‘Neighbour Neighbour’ and ‘Tinderbox’ in late 2011, the band spent six weeks in Brisbane studio The Shed, working with producer Bryce Moorhead, “one of the greatest, most underrated producers in Australia, I think. He’s like Brisbane’s Steve Albini,” says Luke.
“It was great. Because we knew what sounds we were after and what direction we wanted to go in, it wasn’t rushed, it wasn’t like ‘oh crap, we need to get a second record out’. We just did it.”
What emerged on Hungry Ghost was a character study of the personalities and ideas of consumer society that inform their hometown of Brisbane suburb Mansfield, examining “the concept of the outsider, people who are a little bizarre and how they view the world.”
“I didn’t want to write simple, personal stories any more,” says Luke, “which is what a lot of the last record was about. That kind of didn’t do it for me; I didn’t want to write breakup stories, it didn’t seem interesting any more.”
Underpinning the entire record is the way society feeds on human emotion. In looking at the people and stories society shuns, and tries to forget about, it examines the motivation behind consumer culture. And from the opening bars of ‘Dope Calypso’, chock full of fuzzy, tumbling riffs through to the subtle, almost delicate psychedelic swirl of ‘Okay Cathedral’, Hungry Ghost is Violent Soho growing up.
“It’s stuff like status anxiety,” explains Luke, “and worrying about living up to other people’s standards, and in the process become so distracted, sitting on the couch watching other people live their lives. That mentality is behind it.”
There are, of course, still the ‘holy shit’ musical moments. The throat-tearing “yeahyeahyeahyeah” of ‘Covered In Chrome’, the grungy rock’n’roll power of ‘Gold Coast’ and ‘Lowbrow’s spitting anger.
But the tempered slow burn of the album’s title-track demonstrates the maturation of the band’s melodic nous, continuing the work of the last record’s ‘Outsider’ and ‘Paper Planes‘. Adding to that are the shades of full throttle attack and pensive rumination on ‘Eightfold’ and ‘Saramona Said‘.
The band’s ability to relay a compelling character study and their broadened musical palette quickly dispel any notion of Violent Soho being some sort of slacker stoner band only interested in weed and skateboarding.
“There’s always been more to the band than that,” Luke says. “There’s always a lot more to be said. I don’t like music that’s short-sighted and lyrically bland — it can be simple and still effective — but there’s definitely a lot of thought that goes into what we do. It’s not some social-analytical punk thing, but we write stuff for a reason, to get a point of view across.”
It’s a point of view soaked in the curious culture of Brisbane — it’s a record for sunshine and an undercurrent of social morass. “It was written there, recorded there, and it exists because of the people there,” says Luke. “At the end of the day, it’s a rock record from four dudes from Brisbane who started playing in a garage.
”Hungry Ghost is the album Violent Soho needed to make. Intelligent, melodic, and dripping with attitude, it’s also a record you need to hear.