In the 8 years since Velociraptor released their first album, frontman Jeremy Neale has been busy — and not just with music. Beyond his two solo albums, Neale has also found time to write a comic book (T-Rax: the dinosaur DJ who is also a billionaire) and an anti-capitalist musical. With the release of his latest album, We Were Trying to Make It Out, we sat down to chat synths, socialism and Bernie Sanders.
Madeline Ward: You wrote this album in Brisbane and New York — as such an important figure of the Brisbane music scene, was it nice to get out and write music in another city?
Jeremy Neale: Yeah, I think so. It was like — when you’re in your life, you’re very reactive, and you’re reacting to things as they’re coming at you and making decisions based on that. So then when you’re getting away you get an objective bird’s eye perspective on your own life. So it was like — oh this is what I’ve been doing for the last 10 years, now I can see what its been in a story context and what the trials have been of that. Getting away led to writing a record that was encapsulating a large period of time in a lot of ways, because of having that bird’s eye perspective on it.
MW: The first half of We Were Trying to Make it Out reminds me very much of the jangly guitar driven indie rock that had a moment in the early 2010’s, bands like Hungry Kids of Hungary, Last Dinosaurs, Ball Park Music and (obviously) Velociraptor — to what degree would you say this period of music/these bands are an influence on the music you’re currently making?
JN: It’s hard to escape — it gets embedded in your DNA. I just can’t get away from guitar music, as much as I appreciate listening to other types. I just naturally write on guitar and then I write from those influences. It was always the same things which underpinned my core, which is that I love The Ramones, I love 60’s pop melodies. I guess that music did have its time, but for me it’s like an all-time songwriting kind of thing, with what constitutes a good song. So that’s what I end up doing, and then I grab a few more influences as I go along. I had a lot of static influences, but then I had a few things enter that DNA in the last few years. They end up being bands that have been from decades gone anyway (laughs) so it doesn’t add anything ground-breaking to the sound, but I find these bands like Prefab Sprout, which is this 80’s band I’ve become totally obsessed with in the past few years, and that’s entered its way in, and that’s what the title track of the album is heavily influenced by.
MW: The latter half seems to be strongly influenced by a lot of the sounds we’d associate with the 1980’s, particularly Still Want You Around Me. What I find really interesting about this is that the album is also dealing with a lot of the personal effects of living in a capitalist society, which is something that a lot of the music of the 80’s was engaging with as well. Is lyrical depth something that you’re more interested in exploring these days?
JN: It takes a lot to be comfortable to say what you want to say, I think in some ways in music as well. These issues have always been a thing for me, because it’s my life and my day to day, and these are the true boundaries in music. I always thought that acknowledging that there’s a lot of struggle in doing music wouldn’t be received particularly well, like I should keep it light? But then I thought nah — this is real! It’s very hard to do music if you’re in the working class and its very hard to exist in the working class, because there’s not a lot of time left for you — and everything is really fucking expensive (laughs). I just thought there was nothing more important that I could write about in this record.
I didn’t really think about those two things — about the sonics of that time matching up with the intention behind the record. Still Want You Around Me is an interesting one because the catalyst for that was that I wanted something that felt as good as the Toploader song Dancing in the Moonlight.
MW: Something I find really interesting about the album is that it seems to very much be engaging with the nature of the music industry and making music in Australia. With so many Australian success stories we tend to focus on what it’s like to Make It, rather than how hard it can be as a band or a musician trying to forge a career — how important was it for you to engage with this?
JN: In a broad sense, I think I’ve been really lucky with the opportunities I’ve had with many different facets of Australian music. I have nothing to complain about in that regard, but I think in the bigger picture what we do see is a survivor’s bias. We hear about the same artists all the time and they’ve made it from nothing, or perceived nothing, and therefore it’s achievable for everybody — it’s not.
What is achievable is pleasing yourself, which I’ve found is the one thing you can do in music: making things for you and hoping other people will find it. In terms of the grand scheme of things, I think maybe why you see people fading out or away is that I don’t think that it’s common knowledge how expensive music is to do. It’s been devalued, in a way, because it’s always there, it’s on in the supermarket when you do your shopping and it’s free.
As an artist it’s not until you change your expectations, or decide what you want from music, that you can find a sense of peace in just doing what you want to do. But that takes ages — that took me ages too, because I really wanted for a long time to just be a musician. But then I found a much nicer balance by having a day job and then doing exactly what I want to do. The highs are still there, but the lows aren’t so low, because you have that balance. It’s like having these spheres in your life, and you have lots of them being full, so if one’s not particularly working at that time it’s okay, because you still have a great time playing tennis at the tennis court. You love your reality TV and that sphere’s always there for you.
MW: We Were Trying to Make it Out engages with mental health, particularly the strains that working people are under. Was it important to you in writing that you linked the personal effects of the political?
JN: I think it’s an important thing to touch on. I think the main thing that I wanted to say is that the record isn’t me having a whinge, It’s me trying to say that if this is how you’re feeling, someone else is feeling it too. It’s supposed to be an empathetic warm hug. The main message, and why I made the title of the album We Were Trying to Make It Out, is that I thought that best encapsulated self kindness, which is that if things don’t work out, just still find a way to be kind to yourself. Because self talk is the most important thing. If you can control that, you can at least have a chance against the rest of it. That and cardio.
MW: By bringing these themes of anticapitalism together with catchy melodies and anthemic, danceable tunes, do you feel like you’re helping make them accessible to people that otherwise wouldn’t engage with them that much?
JN: I hope so — but then I do wonder what value things are enjoyed at as well. Whether there are lines that people grab on to, or if there’s an overarching theme. If it’s like (laughs) “ah great, finally. A record for the working class.”
MW: An indie-pop record for the working class.
JN: Endorsed by Bernie Sanders!
We Were Trying To Make It Out is now available on all major streaming platforms. With the advent of COVID-19, Jeremy Neale has cancelled his upcoming tour dates. He’s been live streaming shows on his Facebook page in the meantime, and his record is available for purchase from Bandcamp.