The Quagaars are an alternative prog-punk band from Melbourne, Australia. I described their latest album as a Joy Division version of Yellow Submarine, so make sure you listen. Simiana from the band beamed in for some DIY QnA.
1. Tell us about yourself and the music you make
My name is Simiana (although my stage name is Prime8). I’d describe myself as mostly a guitarist/singer/songwriter, primarily working with my band of 20 years, The Quagaars.
2. What are you working on at the moment? Tell us about your latest project
We’ve just released our 5th album, “Apocalypse…Again”, which is a (sort of) concept album about the end of the world. It starts off as a “normal” album (well, normal for The Quagaars) but takes a darker turnabout half way through as we realize that the world is on fire. It was heavily inspired by the whole situation with climate change and how our governments are willing to let us all burn in order to make a quick buck.
We are now working on our 6th album, “Never See The Sun”, another concept album but this time much more of a horror/sci-fi/fantasy theme as it’s about the last surviving vampires going back in time to stop Bram Stoker writing “Dracula”. It was originally going to be a musical, a sort of prog/punk Gilbert And Sullivan type thing. It’ll still have a lot of real life meaning woven into it too. The vampires will represent endangered species as well as marginalized people at various points in the story. People will be able to listen to it that way, or just see it as a fun romp with vampires.
3. What’s your process for making music (songwriting, gear etc)
My process can vary depending on the song. “Forgotten Gravity” from the first album was built around a couple of short phrases that my mum (Nika, occasional backing vocalist) and I came up with in an online game. It was similar to the cut ups method where there were all these words on the screen and you had to make a sentence that made some kind of sense. So I had those 2 phrases and just sort of let my mind go from there. It’s probably one of my most personal songs actually, which is strange considering where it started. I’ve written a few songs using the cut ups method which is always interesting. You never know quite what you’ll come up with.
Most songs though, it starts with me and a guitar. I often just sit around playing and then suddenly, I’ll come up with something that I’ll build into a song. Other times, I’ll go in with a specific agenda to write about a certain topic. Songs like “The Murderer” or “Discrimination” or most of the “Evolver” album. I wrote those songs because they were things I wanted to say. It can work that way musically too.
Sometimes I like the challenge myself. The song “I Dream Of Being Brutally Assaulted By A Giant Rabbit Covered In Jam” came about because 13 is my lucky number, so I wanted to write something with 13 beats to the bar. The lyrics were inspired by a line on the BBC radio series “Round The Horne”. Just the title came from there, but that was the jump off point. The darker imagery in that song was probably because I’d recently seen a short film called “Possibly In Michigan (1983)”. It’s on YouTube if you want to find it. It’s very surreal, so that probably got me into that mindset. Other songs, it’s more of a collaboration. The band uses Facebook chat and we’ll just sort of throw ideas around that’ll just sort of become songs. “Rafty Is One” and “Yapons Knows N Soapy Knows” were written that way.
As for recording, it’s mostly done through either Sony Acid or Adobe Audition. We have a few plug ins, but it’s really pretty basic outside of that. For guitar, I usually plug my KORG ToneWorks AX100G into the computer (occasionally I use a Vox Satchurator instead), then plug my guitar into that, usually my Rickenbacker 330/12. I have a lot of guitars, but…well, let’s just say I have that guitar tattooed on my arm…so yeah. Drums and vocals are usually recorded through a Blue Snowball USB microphone these days. I’ve used others, but I’ve found that I really like the sound I get with that one. The main drumkit we use is a Sonor.
Until recently, my only synth was the MicroKORG, but a friend (Dr. Cheese) recently gave me a Roland S-10 that I’m experimenting with, both as a sampling keyboard and to trigger VST instruments. We all record at home. Because of the nature of the band, it’s impractical to go into a professional studio, but I don’t know if that’d work for us anyway. This way, we have all the freedom in the world. If I’m feeling inspired at 5am after I get home from my “real job”, then I can record then. I’m sure we could get a slicker sound going into professional studios, but then I think we’d lose that spontaneity.
4. What or who inspires you musically?
When I was around 3 years old, I wanted to be the next George Harrison. He was my hero the same way most kids looked up to Superman or Batman. However, I realized that just copying George would be pointless because there already was a George Harrison. So he was my first musical hero. I then spent a lot of time listening to my parents’ and grandparents’ records, really any records that I could get a hold of. My uncle Les had quite a good collection too. Status Quo were another early favourite. I used to carry a copy of “12 Gold Bars” with me everywhere…literally everywhere. My mum is a big Janis Joplin fan, so her music was something else I grew up on.
Then I started to get into Bowie towards the end of Primary School. Initially it was the Ziggy era, but I soon became obsessed with the Berlin era. Something about those albums just really stood out to me. I think it was because it felt like there were no real boundaries and no idea was too crazy. I always like to discover new artists though, or at least artists that are new to me. It’s always awesome to find someone with a new sound or a new spin on something.
As for what inspires me, it can be just about anything. From major world events and political injustice to something that happened at work or something I saw at the shops. I can write a song about just about anything, whether it’ll turn out to be a good song is irrelevant, but it’s always good to actually go through the process of writing it as it could lead to something else later. It could also be my OCD, but I don’t like to throw anything away as I could go back to some half finished idea or even just take a line or 2 from it and turn it into something new.
5. If you could be stuck in a lift with any musician dead or alive, who would it be and why?
Probably Bowie. I don’t know if I’d have the confidence to start a conversation with him though. However, when recovering from surgery, I did have a tramadol inspired dream (or was it) where Bowie and I went for a long walk together and didn’t say a word. He kept switching personas every time I looked at him. But really, I don’t know how I’d be, being stuck in a lift with anyone I don’t know personally. I don’t get stage fright on stage, only in real life. Real life makes me far more nervous than performing.
6. What advice would you give to other DIY musicians, especially those just starting out?
My singing teacher once challenged me to write a song in each key over the space of (I think it was) a month. They were mostly awful songs, but I did it, and that was the point. Making music is a skill like any other. The Beatles were as good as they were because they’d spent months in Hamburg playing 6 hour sets every night, John and Paul had written around 100 songs before they’d even made their first record. You just have to keep going, keep pushing forward. Make mistakes, play with different people, play different styles, find what works for you but never stop challenging yourself.
Make the music you want to hear, don’t just try to copy what’s popular unless you’re purely in it for the money. Never let a lack of funds stand in your way. Record using whatever you can afford, even if it means using an old cassette recorder because that’s all you’ve got. That’s how I started. Nowadays though, we have computers and the internet. There are so many valuable tools and resources out there now that we couldn’t even dream of 20 years ago.
Consider yourself a DIY artist and would like to answer these questions? Get in touch!
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