Is it rock? Is it punk? Is it metal? Is it hardcore? Is it fucking blues?
Most bands spend years trying to define their voice, whereas Captives seem to have arrived with their own snarling sonic signature – like a champion greyhound exploding from the gate with the fluffy bunny already torn to shreds in its jaws. It's a sound that kicks you in the back of the skull with every drum beat, slices at your eardrums with every guitar lick, and tears at the back of your throat with every shriek – and is so distinctive that they had to give it a name themselves:
"Tasmanian Forest Horror."
Emerging (as their self-named genre suggests) from our great island state, the five piece has made a big impact with their intense second EP Butterflies, Diamonds and Lightning. Produced by Shihad's Tom Larkin (whose credits include High Tension, Calling All Cars and Bodyjar) it's a studio combination that saw lead single 'Insomnia' score the barely two-year-old band wide-rotation radio airplay and force their momentum to accelerate from a steam roller into an avalanche in no time.
[V] writer, Nathan Wood, recently caught up with the group's frontman, Aaron Damon, to find out a little bit of the history of Captives; ask how their unique home environment has influenced their music; and, as you'll read from the outset, find out why their website has got everyone feeling like they've taken a tab of the brown acid.
NW: Not the first question I normally ask a band, but who the fuck designed your website? I just went on there to try and do some research and ended up tripping balls.
AD: It's a little trick our guitarist came up with. He's an IT guy and does a bit of teaching and likes to play around with computers, so we let him loose on the website and I'm the guy that has to keep facing the interviews and talking to people about why the website's tripping them out.
I've talked to two or three bands that have an IT dude in the group before and it's the same thing every time. It's like they experiment with their own band on making the most crazy site they can.
Yeah I think he's just trying stuff out with us. It kind of blows me out a bit. But I'm open for anything.
You guys are relatively new on the scene in terms of how old you are for a band and you're definitely fairly new to the general [V] audience – how would you describe your music? It's a bit of a mixed bag.
Everyone kind of calls it punk or heavy rock. But we came up with our own genre because we couldn't quite put a finger on it – so we call ourselves “Tasmanian Forest Horror.” It's a blend of whatever you want to put into it.
So as your name kind of suggests, are your surroundings and your home environment a big influence on your sound?
Yeah, I think the isolation of Tassie maybe creates a monster that is Captives because you're kind of cut off from the rest of the scene and you're doing your own thing down there and not really competing with anybody else. But I think when we put the band name together and the artwork and a lot of the imagery, it was definitely designed around having Tasmania in the back of our minds – hence Captives and everything about it just seems about where we're from and who we are.
Does that isolation of coming out of Tassie open you up to maybe more experimentation or delving into places that you intuitively feel as you play music? Because it seems to me that there is a level of your music that is experimental, for lack of a better term.
Yeah, a lot of our songs we write the music first. We jam and just get in a room and do a lot of it on the spot, and then we'll record it on our phone and just play it back. So a lot of that ends up in the songs – the experimental part.
A lot the sound we have is described as kind of like an '80s vibe in there, so maybe being from Tassie we kind of missed out on a lot of the new stuff that everyone's into at the moment and we're still rocking that '80s vibe. And then we moved to Melbourne and put this blend of new stuff in there as well. So I don't know. It's a bit of a monster.
And how did you all come together? What's the band's story?
Different bands in the same scene. Me and my brothers were in the same band – Matt and Mitch. We've been playing together in bands for years. We went to try our luck overseas and then came back when things didn't work out. And then we met up with the other guys who we'd also been playing gigs with together in the scene but had never played together. I think we got one of the guys to fill in for a gig somewhere and one of the other guys did the same thing down the track when we needed a bass player, and that's how it all kind of came about.
We had this plan to put an album out so we headed to Melbourne and just got told to do an EP with the producer we were working with and we just put it out. That's where we started and it's kind of snowballed from that point.
Was there ever a moment where you were playing together and things felt noticeably different or special about Captives compared to your previous bands?
Yeah, it was probably when we went into the studio to record. We'd done a lot of stuff live and we'd done a lot of writing and we took a lot of songs into the studio – probably took five songs into the studio to do an EP. We ended up trashing parts out of them and trashing songs, so we needed a couple more songs to fill the EP. We were burning dollars in the studio and the pressure was on to on-the spot write a song and that ended up being the first single off our first EP, 'Zombie Dog.' That just fell into place in the matter of an hour. At that point everything felt like it was just gelling and it was kind of like a magic thing came across the band. It's hard to try and recreate that vibe sometimes but every now and again you get those killer songs that just fall out of nowhere.
You worked with producer Tom Larkin, who's got a pretty huge reputation for working with great local rock acts now – what did he bring to your sound?
Well the first EP we did with Tom as well. The first stuff we took in and it was kind of like '80s rock stuff and Tom put a fire up our arse and said, "You've got to try and push the boundaries a bit more," and that made us work a bit harder and that's where those songs came about.
The second time we went in we worked with Tom again and we just went in this time thinking in the back of our minds that we just tested the waters with the first EP. There were five songs on there and probably three different genres. We found the songs that were working and we pretty much put that spin on the new EP, and pushed ourselves into a genre and an area that was working for us. In the back of our mind we wanted something that was going to be a cracker of a live show – something you could stomp your foot to and have a beer and get in people's faces. With the new EP I think we definitely stepped forward in that direction.
There definitely seems to be a live presence on the record, like you recorded it in full flight rather than pulling it together in a studio. Was that a big focus for you when you went into record?
Yeah, previously all the stuff I'd ever done has always been tracked and layered up and you do lose that vibe. As a live rock band you really want to capture that energy. You can't really get that out of us when you're tracking things and layering it up.
Ever since we did the first EP we tracked the band stuff live and just overdubbed some vocals. Everyone's in the room and you're looking at each other and if anyone stuffs up – sometimes you do a song a hundred times and it's really hot and you just want to kill the guy that misplays or stuffs up that note and you get to a point where you're working that hard that you get good at it and you get that right take. It's an energy you can't really recreate by tracking up.
You've managed to do a fair amount for a fairly young band including getting some decent radio play. How are you guys feeling at this stage of your career – like you're cruising on some solid momentum?
Yeah, ever since we started and we played our first show in Melbourne on a Thursday night to not many people and we played first on a bill and we were just stoked to be doing that – and then a year later we were in Melbourne doing our own shows. You're always looking forward and the momentum seems to keep building for us. But when you put out the second EP you're always a bit iffy if it's going to work but I think everything we've done so far has been gradually moving in an upwards direction, so I think we're doing pretty sweet.
Melbourne's got a pretty epic punk rock and hardcore scene – have you guys felt pretty quickly accepted and adopted by the scene?
Yeah, there's heaps of bands in Melbourne and it's such a good scene and there's so many different pubs and yeah I think everyone's been really accepting of Captives. Also it fits in a punk scene and it fits in a rock scene as well, so we're able to switch around and support a gig with everybody and anybody at any venue, really. Not classical music or anything like that, but anything that's rocky or punky, Captives can fit in there no worries at all.
The EP's been out for a little bit now. What's the reaction to it been like?
Yeah they added the first single to triple j rotation and people have been digging the song. When you go to play live it's good to hear people singing along to your music and as each song on the EP gets out there as time passes, the faces come out to your shows and they start to notice more of your songs throughout the set, which is a killer thing.
Captives new EP Butterflies, Diamonds and Lightning is out now. Try not to vomit when you visit their website here: www.captives.com.au