This Friday Regurgitator‘s INVADER – their (currently) newest album – sees release.
Very soon they’ll be going on tour in support of it.
As such, I was afforded the opportunity to talk to Ben Ely about INVADER and how it came to be.

Ez: I’ll start with a question. I think that’s how they conduct interviews these days.

It’s been what some would consider a while since HEADROXX came out. What forced your hands?

Ben: I think because we’ve been playing for a long time, we think if we make a living playing life, it’s nice to have new songs to play live. I think the main thing was like “It’d be good to have some new content for the live show”. We get a kick out of writing and recording as well. It’s fun, so I guess it was a combination of those reasons, really.

Ez: As far as I’m aware, where INVADER started was you guys booked some time around a festival to do some jamming.

Ben: Yeah, that’s right. I had friends that recorded at this barn out west of Brisbane, out in the country, and it just looked like a nice place to go and hang out. I was like “Hey, do you guys want to go and just hang out for a few days and record?” We got a few songs out of that session. The last song, “Tsunami”, was written and recorded from that session, and it was the only one from that session that made it onto the album.

But, yeah. The way we work is I like to do a lot of collaborating and recording together, whereas Quan likes a lot of recording alone, and then we send each other files. It’s a little bit tricky ’cause Pete lives in Sydney and Quan lives in Melbourne and I live in Brisbane. It makes the process a little bit difficult, but we got there in the end *laughs*

Ez: So this one was put together in a more disjointed fashion?

Ben: Some of it was; some of it wasn’t. I feel like when we got together – and we got together in Brisbane for a week in a studio as well – any time when we’d catch up I felt like we’d have a clearer understanding and idea of where the record was headed.

This album took us longer than any other album we’ve made. It took us almost two years to put together. We wrote a lot of material and probably worked harder than we ever did, and I’m not really sure why. I think we wanted to make something really good I guess, or release an album of the material that was the best that we could possibly do, so that’s probably why. We just had, for some reason, a higher standard for this record.

I think we like to make records, and I think because we jump around stylistically so much, always the surprising thing is when you’re working on an actual song you’re so focused on the actual tune and kind of focused on the style it’s in and everything, but it’s always a real sweet surprise…

At the end of the recording Quan and I got together and lay in a dark room and listen to it in good speakers and work out the track listing. That’s when *laughs* we kind of freaked ourselves out because it sounds so strange, ’cause it jumps around so stylistically.

Have you heard it?

Ez: I’ve unfortunately only been able to give it one spin.

Ben: It jumps around a lot, hey.

Ez: From what I remember, yes, and also no at the same time. What I’m assuming are your songs, predominantly are more in a sort of familiar punk vein, so to speak, whereas Quan is doing some more stylistic harkening back to prior decades, especially on “Cocaine Runaway”.

Ben: “Cocaine Runaway” is fun. I really like it. Quan sent me music for that and he said “I made this music. It sounds really cool but I don’t know what to do with the words”. I sent him back a message and said “It sounds like a real estate agent whose taken too much cocaine” *laughs* Then he went away and made the lyrics. I like how that song starts the record and it’s quite conservative-sounding and familiar in some ways, but then [INVADER] branches out and jumps around a bit.

Ez: I also noticed that “The Bastard Poem That Nobody Wanted”, in a sense, feels like it harkens back to earlier ‘Gurge, in terms of its sound palette.

Ben: And the lyrics are quite intense and it’s got this darkness to it.

The guy that wrote that poem (Tyson Yunkaporta) is an author and Quan was chasing him for years. He finally agreed to send us a recording of the poem the day we’re sending the music to mastering, and he sent the poem and I was like “Oh my God, that is so incredible”.

We [had] only two hours to put music behind it. I do some compositions for contemporary dance shows and theatre, so I went through old archives of old strange theatre soundscape noise and sent Quan about fifteen different ideas. He picked out the idea he liked the best and put some drums over it and that’s how that track came about.

It came together within ten minutes of sending it to mastering. It was last minute, but I really like that song. I think it’s really cool. It’s probably one of my favourites on the record.

That’s one thing Quan wanted; a few guest artists for this record, so we invited Peaches and JK87 and Tyson Yunkaporta.

Ez: Speaking of variability on the album… ’cause obviously you guys touch on a few things, but generally there’s a sense of unification. But in terms of albums – at least what I feel, from SupperHappyFuntimesFriends through to HEADROXX is that those three albums are sort of similar to each other, though HEADROXX is more hard-edged than Dirty Pop Fantasy or Super…, but this one sounds very, very different. I don’t imagine you guys go in going “We want to do this. We don’t want to do that”; you just go “Let’s make an album”.

Ben: We started that initially, and we were thinking of album titles. We’ll an idea or a song title; We’ll try and write to that title in a way, and we were writing and then Quan came up with the idea of calling the album INVADER. We wanted one really strong word and we were throwing words around. As soon as we called it INVADER, the songwriting kind of shifted and it did kind of feel like it moved into a bit of a category. It kind of morphed the record in a certain way.

Ez: In what way do the songs represent, or justify the title, INVADER?

Ben: Well, we did write a lot of kind of political commentary about European colony invasion; this idea of colonisation of Australia, and I wrote a few Midnight Oil-esque, more political songs that were quite obvious, and we were debating about it being too obvious, so we kind of shifted the focus into more of the mental state of the modern colonisers.

The concept of “Pest”; of being a worker under a boss, and existential dread of poor mental health, and “Tsunami” being about drug abuse and the stressors of the modern world, so I guess the idea is that we’re kind of an invasive species, so where are we now living in Australia in the modern world, and where do we sit mentally, physically and emotionally, and all this kind of stuff.

So I guess that’s how the lyrical content morphed over the period of time after we’d found our album title. That’s the easiest way I can explain it *laughs*

But you know, I mean everyone can read into each song what they like, really. The way we perceive our music is not necessarily how you will receive it, or anyone else. That’s what I love about music; everyone can perceive it so differently, right?

Ez: Yeah.

Something I did notice with this one is – and even as soon as the title and tracklist came out – at least since New, you guys have had at least one, two or possibly even more songs that have a quite clearly sociological or political concern. It’s often kind of had, in some way, some sort of ironic or post-modern bent to it, but here it’s really kind of spelling it out a lot more.

Ben: I think we kind of hyper-focused on that a lot more; This kind of almost social commentary within your skull of where you sit in the world and everything. I think that’s what I’ve always really loved about Quan’s lyrics.

When I first started writing songs with him and he sent me a demo tape of a song like “Nothing to Say” on a cassette tape where he just made it at home… I really love his lyrical, almost commentary of the modern human and how kind of absurd it is really *laughs* of where we are; where we sit, and it’s quite a strange time to be alive. I’ve always been a big fan of Quan’s lyrics for that reason.

Ez: Even looking at your lyrics, which are generally more direct, on songs like “Modern Life”, or a song that’s much more fun in a sense, “My Friend Robot”; just over time it seems to have become even more direct, even if you’ve also made the music sound more “fun”. I think you’ve both changed in a way, but here it feels more overt, I think.

Ben: Yeah. I’d agree with you there.

Ez: So when it came to whittling down all these songs to get this, how many did you go in and record and then cut off?

Ben: I wrote heaps of songs. I’ve probably got another two or three records for solo or something *laughs*

If I’m writing alone I tend to get less energetic and maybe a bit more emotional or something. Don’t really have that Regurgitator energy sometimes, so sometimes I’ve gotta either go to the guys and write with them to try and get the energy, or just try and imagine I’m with them ’cause I think there is a degree of energy with a lot of our songwriting, especially when we’re gonna transpose it [for] a live setting.

There was a lot of music, and especially once the title changed and there was a lot of different songs getting thrown around.

I’ll write lots of songs and record them very poorly. If it’s a good idea I’ll spend more time trying to bash it into shape, whereas Quan will have some cool lyrical ideas, and then he’ll… like a song like “Dirty Old Men”; I think he sent me like six or seven different versions, different styles. He sent me a Tom Waits, industrial Bone Machine kind-of version, and then he sent me an Ice Cube kind-of rap version of it, and then he sent me a rock version of it. I think it was the week before we finished the record he did the version that’s on the record and he goes “I want this to go on the record” and I was like “That sounds so different to your other versions!”. He was like “Ah, yeah, but that’s the one”. I went “Okay. Let’s just do it. I can’t stand this anymore” *laughs*

Quan will have some cool lyrics. Spend ages working on the lyrics, and then kind of present lots of stylised versions of those lyrics. It’s a pretty different process for both of us.

Ez: Speaking of your processes; is that how “Pee Pee Man” came about?

Ben: “Pee Pee Man” just fell out. That version on the record; that was the original. I had a drum machine and an acoustic guitar, and I just sang and played and recorded, and that song fell out, first go. I went “Oh, I actually like that”. I then tried to recorded and make it sound good and I went “It doesn’t sound as good as that original demo”, so I just wanted to put that on. That’s why it sounds so shit.

Ez: *laughs*

Ben: I made it sound intentionally shittier. I like the chord changes, and it just fell out. I didn’t do two takes of it. It was weird.

Ez: Let’s quickly touch a little bit on “Tsunami”, ’cause you said it has to do with drugs, or at least addiction, sorry. You could say you’ve touched on it with “Bongzilla” as well, and “8 O’clock”; it’s a theme that you seem to revisit here and there. Why is it a subject that you find so important to revisit?

Ben: It’s always been part of my life. I grew up in a pretty violent home, with a very violent father. It wasn’t very kind, you could say. As I grew up in the eighties, I think I got pretty disenchanted with the world, and I think rock music and playing in rock bands was a really great way to run away from facing all these feelings, trauma that I was subjected to, and so I think throughout my adult life I used boozed and drugs to deflect those intense feelings.

I’ve always drunk and smoked weed, and when I was younger I used harder drugs. When I wrote “Tsunami”, that was the first song I wrote for the record. That song fell out like “Pee Pee Man” did, and its words came out subconsciously.

For the last two years I tried to stop drinking, and I stopped drinking properly seven months ago, and I’ve been sober seven months. I then went and revisited “Tsunami” and the whole vibe of that, after being sober for a while, it was like “Oh my God; that’s the old me, and I feel like a different version of myself now”. So it was pretty weird.

I guess maybe it’s just a degree of honesty. When I like to paint or draw or do art, I don’t like to go into the process with a preconceived idea. I’ll just try to paint, or write, or play music, and just see what comes out.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned in my life is not try to have a preconceived idea. I think it’ll be more genuine and more true to myself if I just let stuff come out, and “Tsunami” just came out like that. Then I think you find a truer version of yourself.

But the reason those songs come out is probably because that’s always been a part of my life. Life can be challenging, but I’m trying to deal with my shit.

Ez: So there’s personal themes here; there’s themes that look more outward. In talking about them seeming more overt, why do you think it took Regurgitator this long to be more overt about these things?

Ben: Maybe it’s maturity, I guess?

It’s funny. The longer we go on, I feel like the more we appreciate what we have as a band with each other. When we were young I don’t think we really, truly valued what we had. I feel like we’re really lucky, and there’s a lot of gratitude now, being in a band and being able to play music for a living. I mean, it’s pretty crazy, so we do value it a lot more.

I’m not sure if I’m answering your question though.

Ez: It’s fine.

Do you think it’s possible that… you guys obviously want to make enjoyable music. That’s pretty evident as far as I’m concerned, but do you think you’re more willing to be – in a sense – angry about these ideas and general worldly woes?

Ben: Yeah. I think it was things like The [Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice] Referendum really. Upset us as individuals, and just the general state of the world. We’ve got kids and there’s climate change, and it feels like a lot of people are walking around with a hood over their head.

It seems like pretty crazy times. We’re kind of on the precipice of fucking up the entire planet. These kind of things can make you feel a little bit angry, or a little bit more prone to shouting a little bit louder, but we can only do what we can in our own little lane. If the song means something to us, it might mean something different to something else, and they can perceive it in their way, but I guess for us, at least we feel like we’re clearly projecting ideas about things, so maybe that’s it.

Ez: They’re more direct, but there’s still an intent to keep the music enjoyable still.

Ben: Yeah, and that’s the weird thing about our band. We like it to be fun and enjoyable, but we still need to be honest. But I think a life… it’s just like if you have a fight with someone, and you try and communicate your idea to them. If you can joke around about it, it makes the encounter with that person so much more amicable and easy, but if you get really serious, it just makes it really heavy and dark, and your relationship terrible, do you know what I’m saying?

When you’re communicating ideas, if you do it in this kind of comical way, it makes everything so much lighter and easier. I think that’s probably part of why we like to communicate the way we do with the songs.

Ez: Do you ever worry about the balance between keeping the music feeling fun and enjoyable, and making sure the message is not being diluted because of it?

Ben: Yeah, and the opposite as well.

I did a lot of songs that sounded quite dark and morose, and sounded almost like eighties goth music *laughs* like Sisters of Mercy. It didn’t have the playfulness in the sound, so it didn’t work, really.

I guess we are our own critics, and that’s what’s good with working with Quan. He can be quite clear and go “Oh, no. Doesn’t sound quite like us”. I’m the same with him. As much as we like to genre hop we still sort of have a sound, I think.

Ez: Oh there is definitely… I’m sure that someone who had the right vocabulary for it, or even both you or Quan could quite easily quantify what it is that makes Regurgitator sound like Regurgitator, because you are one of those bands that can do a whole bunch of things and it’ll still sound like you. Even a song like “Driving in the Rain” sounds like Regurgitator, although it is a little bit more loosely so because it’s so much more a mood piece than what you guys generally do.

What is that Regurgitator secret sauce then?

Ben: *laughs* I don’t know. It’s probably a degree of honesty in the lyrics, but then the playfulness in the sounds, and whether the sound is quite heavy and nasty, but the lyrics are quite gentle and pop, or if the lyrics are really filthy and pornographic but the music’s sweet and poppy.

“Cocaine Runaway” sounds like an eighties pop song but it’s about a cocaine-addicted real estate agent that kills his girlfriend. It’s a bit of a funny juxtaposition. That’s something Quan’s always loved; it’s almost like a Tarantino movie, where he’ll get this kind of upbeat, funky fun dance track and someone’s being murdered. Quan’s always loved that. Maybe that’s part of being young in the nineties. Maybe that’s part of it.

But I think that’s what we enjoy. That’s the kind of style we like to play with.

Ez: Touching on another Quan song: The first revealed track was “This is Not a Pop Song”, and I’m curious about that one because I’m trying to work out how it fits, intent or sociological-wise with the rest of the album.

Ben: *laughs* It doesn’t at all, but I like that song because it’s very playful, and it does remind me of a lot of things that I really love, like Tom Tom Club, or Liquid Liquid, or that kind of early eighties dance thing. I don’t know; there’s something about it.

We were teenagers in the eighties. When you’re a teenager, a lot of music that seeps in, psychologically, you just get so nostalgic for it, and I kind of feel like we really love that stuff.

Leading the record with that is probably the most harmless song. We always have this idea of like “Let’s try and get people in to listen to the record and then we’ll throw some other crazy shit at them. They will not expect it”. They might buy the record thinking it sounds like that, but it doesn’t, and we kinda like that. It’s like some weird sorcerer luring unsuspecting victims into his cave! Mwahahahaha!

Ez: It also does fit with Regurgitator, but I find it fucking irritating because it won’t leave my brain.

Ben: Sorry about that.

Ez: *laughs*

Ben: I didn’t write it, so I don’t take any responsibility. I just played bass on it *laughs*

Ez: But you also did “Australiyeah”. Did that one come through the process?

Ben: With that song I had that guitar riff. I went away camping with my family, and that riff was going around and around in my head and I came home and recorded it, and the lyrics just fell out.

Ez: To ask a question that is an idea of selling the album, what makes you think this particular tracklist work?

Ben: It’s funny because we have songs that jump around stylistically, and when we play live, we have this feeling that the more dramatically it jumps around, the more fun it is for us to play. We kind of try and stick to that with track listing as well; trying to make it jump around super erratically. The more erratic, the better. It makes each song stand out more if they’re not matching up as much, so yeah. That’s how we approach track listing.

Ez: So what makes this particular tracklist work is that it’s jumping around.

Ben: Yeah. I think so. That was our rationale when we listed it.

Ez: And when it comes to performing these live… ’cause you guys have been willing to adjust the songs for live performance here and there. How are you thinking about how these songs will be approached in a live setting?

Ben: We are gonna try and do them pretty much true to the record. We usually change up songs if we’ve been playing them for a long time, but because we’re just putting these out, we’re gonna play them pretty much how they sound on the album.

There’s a bit of synthesizer and extra guitar [so] we’ve recruited Sarah Lim, a session gun whose gonna come on tour with us and play keyboards and guitar. She usually does full on heavy metal bands, but she’s gonna join us for the tour. It’ll be great to have an extra bit of energy on the stage.

Ez: I’ve seen you guys perform with a fourth member, and sometimes without. What is it that makes you decide?

Ben: We just did the Unit tour. We invited Shane because he went on tour with us when we put the album out, so we were like “That’d be quite nice to invite him back to come and do the tour with us”. It was quite nice having him come out. It helped relive a bit of that feeling when we put out the record.

Sometimes if we’ve had lots of extra instrumentation on the record, it’s nice to have an extra player if we can, but sometimes the budget doesn’t allow for it, so when it doesn’t we don’t usually do it, but we do like to do it.

Ez: Shane was also with you up until Eduardo & Rodriguez Wage War on T-Wrecks, wasn’t he?

Ben: Yeah, but it is quite expensive touring, and sometimes we kind of have to just perform as a three-piece out of financial necessity. It’s hard to be a musician in Australia sometimes.

Ez: *laughs* Sometimes or all the time?

Ben: All the time *laughs* Nah it’s alright. I mean, it’s alright for us. I know it’s harder for other friends, but yeah.

Ez: You guys certainly broke through at the right time for it.

Ben: We feel very lucky.

Ez: And you’ve also managed to hold onto a very dedicated fan base.

Ben: I still can’t believe that when we started the band we were just a side project and we weren’t gonna do anything, but it’s quite shockingly surprising and amazing to see the same people come back to our shows. People bring us presents or send us nice cassette tapes. I feel so much love and appreciation for all the supporters that we have. It’s pretty awesome.

Ez: So INVADER obviously… even though you’ve said people can get what they want from it, it does have some pretty overt meaning. Where do you think the space of meaning for it will sit after it’s released?

Ben: I can speak for myself and my songs. I feel like my songs are almost like when you go on a holiday, you get a postcard, it reminds you of how you felt and were at that time, physically [and] emotionally.

It’s like “Tsunami”. I wrote it two years ago and didn’t listen to it for a year-and-a-half and then I heard it. I went “Oh this is actually a pretty cool song, but it doesn’t sound like where I’m at now, but I still like it”.

Always with records for us, when I hear them they kind of transport me back in time, so I guess for me, personally, they’ll probably just be a little reflection of 2023 or ’24. For me, they’re kind of like little personal postcards.