Who Are…Twerps

Evan Minsker

By Evan Minsker

on 09.04.12 in Who Is...?s

[In honor of his new album, I Know What Love Isn't, we asked Jens Lekman to take over eMusic. All this week, you'll be reading both Jens-assigned Reviews of the Day and interviews commissioned, at his request, with some of his favorite bands.]

File under: Flying Nun jangle pop peppered with ballads and jams

For fans of: Real Estate, The Go-Betweens, Eddy Current Suppression Ring

From: Melbourne, Australia

Personae: Martin Frawley (guitar/vocals), Julia McFarlane (guitar/vocals), Rick Milovanovic (bass), and Patrick O’Neill (drums)

While talking about his band Twerps’ self-titled LP from 2011, Marty Frawley calls it “such a fluke.” The band went into the studio, worked out some jams, recorded a few ballads, and made an album that unfolds with Flying Nun jangle and quiet, tender moments. Clearly, Frawley viewed the collection of songs as a hodgepodge, saying they took the disparate songs and “sculpted the record together for a particular sound.” But he’s being modest — it’s an excellent sculpting job. They manage to bridge the sonic divide between stuff like the ballad “Bring You Down,” freewheeling tracks like “Jam Song,” and drunken sing-alongs like “Who Are You” with their point-perfect sequencing. The album’s easy progression and strong songwriting makes it an overlooked gem of 2011.

After the album came out, the band toured America, hitting SXSW and supporting Real Estate for a string of dates. More pressingly, they’ve begun writing and recording songs for an upcoming album. The last record was largely written by Frawley, with the exception of “This Guy,” which was written and sung by Julia McFarlane, the band’s guitarist and Frawley’s girlfriend. So with McFarlane writing more songs and Frawley listening to a completely different batch of music since the last time he made an album, the songwriting dynamic in the band has definitely shifted.

At Jens Lekman’s request, eMusic’s Evan Minsker spoke with Frawley right before the band headed out for a music video shoot. “Like the Dandy Warhols in Dig!,” Frawley said. He talked about the band’s fast friendship with Real Estate, sharing songwriting duties with Julia, and his general disdain for SXSW.

On Jens Lekman:

I heard his new record last night — it sounds really good. I think over here, he was played on a lot of television. He had a lot of jingle spots. I would hear songs, then I’d hear them at a friend’s house who’d be playing him, and I’d go, “Isn’t that the bank ad?” But I’d never heard the records as a whole. I’d hear snippets. So I didn’t know who he was, but Rick [Milovanovic] who plays bass, he loved his first record. I’ve got to give it a bit more listens, I think.

I met him once; he’s a lovely guy. We met him at a show we that we played at in Melbourne and all these really sporty looking guys were talking to this guy, and I didn’t know who he was. They were like, “Man, we love your music, you’re amazing, how do you write these songs?” And I said to Rick, “Who’s that guy?” They were all these jocky guys, so it was a weird thing to be seeing. And Rick was like, “That was Jens Lekman.” I was like, “Oh my God!” He watched us play and he came up after and said he liked it. But he was a lovely guy. That was one of our firstest gigs, so it was a long time ago now.

On touring with Real Estate:

It was, like, a dream come true. I got into Alex Bleeker and the Freaks before I heard Real Estate — before they’d blown up, I guess, before you couldn’t not hear them. But when I heard them, instantly I was like, “Oh, I love this band.” So every day to be hanging out, and they’re just the most lovely people, and they really liked our music and we really like them. So it was just a dream. It was a lovely experience — the best way to travel your wonderful country.

I think we were all really inspired by how we saw Real Estate as a band and how they worked. We learned a lot from them about how to perform and how to get your songs across. Julia would watch Matt [Mondanile] and she’d be like, “I want to get one of those pedals.” I used Martin [Courtney]‘s guitar pedals a lot of the time on tour just so I wouldn’t have to set up, and I’d say, “I want to step on this one,” and I’d step on it, and shit would just go all over the place. Pat [O'Neill] would be like, “I want you to get one of those pedals for ‘Coast to Coast,’ it made the song go crazy!” So we like what they do. I can’t wait to see what they keep coming with, because they’re into the Clean and they played that “Anything Could Happen” song, and to me that’s such a coincidence. It’s like, “You guys covered that song? That’s why Rick and I started a band.” We’re just like friends from another side of the world, but if we were in New Jersey we’d be buddies, and if they were here, we’d be buddies.

On being compared to Real Estate:

Yeah, when our record came out, a lot of that was said, and I was like, “Oh, that’s amazing!” They’re so good. Martin and I are really good friends, so when we go on tour, I guess I kind of understood. We listen to a lot of the same music, and we’re just gentle men. He’s a songwriter, that dude. He writes killer songs. And with Twerps, I’ll come up with some ideas and the band will all make it. But I really like that comparison, and if it was a comparison that came up a lot, I’d be like, “Enough with that.” I like what they do, and I don’t think we sound enough like them. We’re Australian. We have our own stamp.

On playing SXSW:

I have a love/hate relationship with it. Like, I quite like the idea of it, but about four hours into being there, I can’t deal with it. Just because I don’t think we’re that type of band, you know? You drive into the city and all you can smell is pizza and a snare drum the whole day. I don’t think we’ve ever been a band that’s gonna be like, “OK, we’re gonna get up and perform five times, ’cause this time might be the one time someone comes.” And obviously, you have expectations of what it’s gonna be like when you go there, but it definitely was eye opening for all of us and very tiring, and I don’t think our songs — I’m not saying other people’s songs don’t have meaning, but when we play them, we try to make them feel like what we were feeling. And trying to give that to someone five times a day, maybe while standing on the back of a fuckin’ big truck to three people eating hot dogs, just doesn’t work for us sometimes. Saying that, we had a good time and met a lot of lovely people. What we’re there to do is just play and work, and for me in particular, it’s a hard thing. I don’t want to ruin our chances by not playing good shows.

On being friends with several great Melbourne rock bands:

Rick’s fiancée is from Super Wild Horses, and he plays in a band with one of the dudes from Eddy Current. We’d see them every weekend — they’re just our buddies. We were all friends before we started playing in Twerps or before Super Wild Horses started or before Beaches started. We were all in other bands and other things. Now it’s just the same, it’s just we’re doing other bands. It is funny, sometimes I’ll be having a beer with three dudes and they’re all from different bands. It’s not like we’re like, “We’re in bands! That’s what we do! We hang out!” It’s just the people we hang out with that we’re inspired by. It’s a small little world.

On the video store where he met Rick:

I worked at a video store and I remember Rick always used to come in with his girlfriend. And they’d always get cool movies. He’s a bit older than me — I’m a bit younger than the rest of the band — but he’s a really nice guy. The girl that worked there said, “I’m going to get a friend to work,” and it was him, and in the first 10 minutes, we were buddies. He took me under his wing. We’d go to shows like every day if they were on. He showed me this music scene that I hadn’t been into.

After we got back from America, I got my job [at the video store] back. The people that work there are cool. We’d drink beer on the shift and just chat. It was a really nice place to work. I like them — they’re always kind of warm places, there’s usually a movie going on in the background, and there’s so much to choose from. It’s like a record store.

I noticed while I was over there [in America] that Blockbuster was selling everything. You’ve got Netflix, why do you need a video store? It’s the best thing ever.

On what he’s listening to lately:

I never really liked Neil Young, which is weird. But I’ve been listening to his records. I like that War on Drugs record. I really like David Kilgour’s solo record with this guy Sam Hunt, who was a New Zealand poet — they made a beautiful record with just a 12-string and an acoustic. I like Paul Kelly.

On how the band has changed their approach to songwriting:

I don’t think it’s going to take a direction of “Pat’s going to play electronic drums” or something. But I think the songs are going to be a bit more considered in the writing technique. I feel songs like “Dreamin’” and “Coast to Coast” and stuff, I’d just be like, “Here’e the riff, let’s just jam.” And then we’d just want to finish the song, so we’d go with whatever came first. A lot of our songs, we just played for 10 minutes and would want to play it at the next show. We’d be so pumped. But now that we’ve got a bit of time, maybe we’ll try and think about how songs should progress.

Jules has a couple killer ones. Jules is writing a lot more, and I’ve been so into so much different music. I don’t want all these songs to sound so different. And Twerps has never been about a direction, it’s just about making songs ’cause that’s what they are. Maybe over summer, we’ll try to record [the album]. The goal is to have it by March. I don’t want to rush that — that’s why we make the songs, to make the best ones we want to make. Rick doesn’t like doing fillers — not that we’re ready to call songs “fillers” — but we want to make sure we’re happy with all of them.

On sharing songwriting duties with Julia:

Jules has a new one that’s so killer. We’ve played it three times at our last three shows. It’s next level. The band started [with me writing most of the songs] because the other guys weren’t write songs, but I was, so I was the one coming into rehearsal with all of them and they were playing catch-up with the ones I had. But now we’re kind of up to date with where I’m at, and Julia’s been writing even more. She’ll look at a song in a different way from me, so it’s really interesting and fun to learn through her. I don’t want it to be one man’s project. I like the idea that Julia can sing and make her songs. She’s my girlfriend, so it’s an interesting dynamic. I’d really like for it to be an even six-five, five-six [split], because her songs are probably about how I’m irritating her or how she saw the sun one day. She’s a really good singer, we just need to get her more strong and happy with her vocals.

On his spare time:

I procrastinate about why I’m not playing my guitar. This is what I want to do — I want to play my guitar. I want to make songs. But then a lot of the time, you can’t just be making songs. I can’t, anyway. So a lot of the time, I’ll just be sitting, stewing, I’ll check the internet, I’ll take my dog for a walk, I’ll call my buddies. I used to skateboard a lot to get some nervous energy out, but I’m worried that I’ll hurt myself now. I want to be a primary school teacher, so I think I’d like to go back to school. Rick’s a graphic designer, Pat’s a photographer and Julia’s a printmaker, so I’ve got all these arty ones around me and I just procrastinate at home, thinkin’, “What am I going to do — how am I going to ruin this band?” I used to play video games, but now I just sit around and go, “Shit!”Twerps