VIOLENT Soho are the unlikeliest of success stories. Guitars are meant to be passé. The soft-loud song dynamic was supposed to have faded into the realm ‘90s nostalgia. Where’s the synths, bro?
But last year the four lads from the south-eastern Brisbane suburb of Mansfield, known as the Queensland capital’s “Bible belt,” became arguably the hottest rock band in Australia.
They offered a welcome alternative for music fans who hankered for a return to crunching guitar music made in garages, rather than electronica crafted on bedroom laptops. Violent Soho’s fourth record Waco, released in 2016, reached No.1 on the Australian charts, won ARIAs for best rock album and group and five of its 11 tracks were voted into Triple J’s Hottest 100.
Violent Soho guitarist James Tidswell says it was “100 per cent the best year” for the band.
“It’s been a wild ride for a while now and that might sound crazy, but we’ve been doing it for how many years and this stuff happens,” Tidswell says.
“It’s been pretty crazy to say the least. Because we’ve been doing it for so long you get set in your pathways and how it’s all going. We don’t really get to feel the impact because we’re all married with kids and been doing it for years. Although that stuff is going on, life for us doesn’t really change.”
Success certainly hasn’t changed life for the four early 30-somethings. There’s no limousines, lear jets or celebrity girlfriends.
Tidswell has a two-year-old son, bassist Luke Henery is a father of two and drummer Michael Richards has one. During some shows the band actually has two dressing rooms to cater for the extended Violent Soho family.
“We have as many kids on the side of the stage as we have people on stage and two separate dressing rooms, one for the kids which is set up with toys and one for us for our activities,” Tidswell says. “We keep it pretty family-orientated to be honest.”
While speaking to Weekender from his Brisbane home Tidswell is busy with child-minding duties, cooking lunch for four children and preparing to keep the energetic tots occupied with a DVD screening of Ice Age.
The word ambition certainly doesn’t come into the Violent Soho world.
“When you’re in a band, nobody thinks you work so they’re like, ‘Dude you don’t work, so we’re dropping all our kids at your house while we go to work’,” he says.
From an outsider’s perspective Violent Soho might seem like an overnight success. They’re anything but. The four school friends started the band in 2004 and after a largely-ignored EP and debut album, they finally found a mild success with their self-titled sophomore LP in 2010.
The band’s obvious affection for ‘90s grunge and punk like Nirvana, Blink 182 and The Pixies was out of sync with the zeitgeist of electronic and synth-driven music. However, their 2013 record Hungry Ghost, led by the energetic single Covered In Chrome and it’s cry of “f – – k yeah” and blast of distortion, couldn’t be ignored.
Hungry Ghost went gold, selling 35,000 copies, and announced Violent Soho as a leader of Australia’s new wave of rock acts like the Smith Street Band and Gang Of Youths.
Waco then took a step further by refining the band’s sound and incorporating more consistent songwriting through singles Like Soda, Viceroy and So Sentimental. The subsequent national album tour, supported by Brisbane bands DZ Deathrays and Dune Rats and Newcastle’s Gooch Palms, was a complete sell-out. Mainstream success had finally arrived.
Violent Soho have been signed to independent Melbourne label I Oh You, a subsidiary of Mushroom, since 2012. In music there’s nothing surer than record companies smelling money in a successful band.
Yet, you get the impression record companies will be wasting their time moulding Violent Soho into a more marketable image. In 2010 the band moved to Brooklyn for 10 months, but the US stint was an abject failure as they were broke and incapable of living up to their record label’s A&R vision for the band.
“The word ambition certainly doesn’t come into the Violent Soho world,” Tidswell says. “We’ve been lucky enough to end up in this situation by just doing it. We don’t take it for granted and we know things come and go. We don’t know how we got here, so we’re not going to pretend we’re geniuses and know what we’re doing.
“There’s definitely no pressure. When it comes to record labels we ended up working with I Oh You and our management company because they took all the pressure off us.
“When we were doing Hungry Ghost we didn’t expect to be played on the radio at all. So they really learnt you can’t push or make us do that stuff because it’s not within us. We learnt that in the first eight years of being in a band and we’re lucky that this happened so much later for us, so we didn’t get caught up in that sort of stuff.”
In the early years the four boys from strict Christian families were infamous for their wild party lifestyles. At one point it almost threatened to derail the band when frontman Luke Boerdam momentarily quit due to his bandmates’ antics.
“If it [success] had happened in our early 20s there’s no way we’d be together,” Tidswell says. “There’s just no way. In our early 20s we were just out of control.”
After the craziness of 2016, the Violent Soho world in 2017 is likely to be dominated by blissful domesticity. Boerdam is overseas working up lyrical inspiration for the fifth album, but Tidswell isn’t expecting recording to start until 2018.
“The good thing about being in our band, because we’re not really part of the machine and never played in it, we don’t feel the pressure to jump up and get songs out,” he says. “We were taking this whole year off, but then Groovin The Moo threw us a bone and we’re super keen to get out to some regional spots on this album to finish it up.”