Interview: Barry Cliffe
Strange Forces have been one of the busiest bands in Berlin over the past year playing everywhere from galleries to church crypts to support slots for Cave, Salem and Tame Impala not to mention their massive 22 date tour last April/May in support of their debut EP which took them through seven countries and as far away as Ukraine.
Their bio reads:
Their influences range from Spacerock to obscure New-Age Prophecies. It sounds like a black sanded beach below 20 suns. It’s mulitdimensional dark-surf, powered by Peyeote and driven by dark matter induced by their pineal gland. Strange Forces deliver a washed out Lo-Fi Psychedelic experience channeling organic and digital sounds from one swell to another.
…and that’s about as accurate a description of the Strange Forces live experience as you’re likely to find.
I caught up with their guitarist Matt, drummer Eli and their manager Michael to talk influences, touring and crowd-surfing in Ukraine.
Matt: I’m Matt, I’m in Strange Forces. I play guitar and I sing.
Michael: I’m Michael, I’m the manager of Strange Forces, and I tell them what they should not say in an interview.
Eli: I’m Eli, I’m in Strange Forces, and I like to play drums.
Barry: so what parts of Australia are both of you from?
Eli: We’re from Brisbane.
Matt: We all went to school together.
Barry: Did you grow up in the same neighbourhood in Brisbane?
Matt: Well, pretty much. Brisbane isn’t that big a city.
Eli: We went to the same school…
Matt: And we’ve known Nick since we were seven.
Barry: So, what drew you guys to Berlin in the first place? Why did you end up here?
Matt: Nick and I were living in London for four years, and we just got sick of that place. It was expensive, and when Eli came over, we just decided to come here.
Eli: Yeah, I mean I was there for a year, and we just got real sick of it.
Matt: We always wanted to come here, too..
Eli: Yeah, there was always a thing, like, “we should go to Berlin one day”
Matt: But I think we just got stuck in London, doing the grind.
Eli: As you do.
Barry: so it was the usual story of, Berlin is cheaper and there is more happening..?
Eli: But we always thought there was something going on in Berlin. I remember reading about Berlin, and thinking, “we should try and get there one day”.
Barry: Australia is known for its great music scene, what did you guys grow up listening to? What’s the first thing you remember buying, or listening to?
Matt: The first record I bought was Blur, probably.
Barry: Which one?
Matt: Beetlebum, the single. I really like that track.
Eli: there was the first Grinspoon record, which I remember listening to a lot.
Matt: a lot of Triple J stuff, I guess.
Barry: When you guys were teenagers, what influenced you from an early age?
Matt: It’s hard to say, because I think the music we make now is not much like anything we listened to when we were young.
Barry: Your influences have come from where then?
Matt: We taught ourselves all our instruments, and then we just created something else that we thought would be different and good.
Eli: We didn’t want to create the same thing that we had always listened to. We knew that we’d always want to make something sort of different, or weird, or whatever.
Matt: When I was at uni, I listened to a lot of stuff like Boards of Canada, and that really influenced me from an experimental aspect. So I was thinking if I could take the same sort of ideas, but turn it into what I just had with me to work with…
Barry: So you taught yourselves, and then arrived at the Strange Forces sound, which is a fairly heavy, psychedelic guitar sound. I mean, its pretty loud and intense…
Matt: I think also we wanted to stick together and make music, as an idea, because Eli didn’t learn drums until university, pretty late.
Eli: But we always had the idea of a band before we could even really play our instruments.
Matt: The idea when we were at uni was to make a drum n bass band, but all live instruments. (laughter)
Eli: Yeah, we used to listen to a lot of drum n bass as well in those days…
Matt: That was an idea, but we never got to it.
Eli: (laughter) We should still do that one day.
Barry: When did you meet Michael, your manager?
Matt: Was it a year and a half ago, at Mama Bar? When we were drunk?
Michael: I don’t really remember…
Eli: Then we woke up and had a manager!
Michael: It was pretty much like that. (laughter)
Barry: You’ve just released your debut EP. Where did you record it?
Matt: At Funkhaus, Studio East. There’s a guy there that mixed it and everything. We recorded it in about two days. We just released it, but its pretty old stuff. Because its self released, we didn’t have the money until recently to do it.
Eli: We want to do some new recordings this summer…
Matt: …for sure. I think we want to get an album out before the end of the year. But I think it will be quite different.
Barry: The EP, the first and the last tracks specifically, have electronic beats leading them in before it explodes into your trademark guitar, bass, drums sound. Are those earlier songs?
Matt: That’s a pretty old song, the last track. And the first track, we pretty much did a remix of it ourselves. But that was always the idea; to incorporate electronic aspects.
Eli: We use a lot of samples, and play to samples.
Matt: I want to start using a lot more, and I want to get a synth as well, so we’ll see how it goes.
Barry: Do you meet a lot of other bands out at the Funkhaus?
Eli: Not really…
Matt: A lot of stuff going on on our floor, we wouldn’t listen to. A lot of funk fusion, and some metal stuff.
Eli: There’s heavy metal, and all German bands, but there is Shackleton who lives downstairs. I think he has moved since…
Matt: I like his stuff a lot.
Eli: he’s an electronic guy, we got to meet him and hang out with him a bit.
Barry: It’s not one giant meeting place for bands? That’s the impression I get about it.
Eli: No, not really.
Matt: It’s funny because Chateau Laut from the Blitzgigs show, they just got a room there but we never see them.
Eli: Its such a big space as well, you just go there and eat some food and lock yourself in your room, then ride home.
Barry: Do you get that feeling about living in Berlin, that there are a lot of good bands around, but you don’t get to hear of them or you don’t get to see them? Or play with them even, because there’s too much space and the venue’s too far and there’s not really a “scene” as such. Do you get that feeling a lot, or is something you just don’t notice?
Matt: There definitely isn’t a scene, I don’t think. But we’re just trying to do our own thing, which is what’s good about it. You have that space to just do your own thing and concentrate on it. But other things that drew us here as well were other Australian bands that used to live here that I always used to listen to and like a lot, like Hate Rock and Devastations. Even earlier, The Birthday Party came here, just the idea of doing that really appealed to me. So there is some kind of feeling like that I think, but in terms of other bands, we’ve come across a few…
Eli: There’s always new bands popping up everywhere, and all these experimental things going on.
Barry: How was the tour from Denmark to Ukraine?
Michael: I drove a lot. I drove a car for 5000kms.
Eli: You’re a good driver, though.
Matt: Denmark was awesome.
Michael: Denmark was great. There was a lot of alternative hippy culture.
Matt: I really dug the music, and even the small places we played in as well, the kids loved it, which was great to see. That never really happens in Berlin.
Eli: Ukraine was good for that, because the people there, they said they hadn’t heard stuff like this before and they just went nuts. People were crowdsurfing and just going mental. It was pretty different to Berlin crowds…people sort of just stand there and nod their heads.
Barry: Is that why you went out East and chose Poland and Czech Republic and Ukraine, just to see different places and different crowds?
Eli: We just wanted to go on an adventure as well.
Matt: We were trying to get anything as our first tour, it’s a bit tough, but I think it ended up being really good.
Eli: The whole thing was awesome; I could easily do it again, the whole touring lifestyle.
Matt: I think that’s another thing we realized, being in Berlin, we can just do it. We’re in the middle here, so that’s another good thing about (living in Berlin). But yeah, the Ukraine was pretty crazy.
Eli: It was the craziest place of all. But it was a good experience, I wouldn’t really think to go there otherwise, but to play music there was one of the best experiences we have had on tour.
Barry: Any fights? Arguments?
Michael: No, no fights on tour.
Eli: I think because we grew up together, we just know when everyone needs time. You just make a joke of the whole thing.
Eli: and Michael is pretty chilled, so it was pretty relaxed. I think the only reason anyone would be grumpy is if they were hungover.
Matt: But that was sort of fun as well.
Barry: How did playing Vienna compare to Berlin?
Matt: Rhiz Club, it was good! It was a Monday or Tuesday night, and there were a lot of people, it went off.
Eli: It was good in Austria, we went to Michael’s home town, where his parents live, which is in Kufstein. We played a show there, which was really fun. His place is awesome; there’s mountains in his backyard…after five weeks of touring, It was good to have his parents look after us, make us food, have a good bed and shower. It was relaxing, it was one of the highlights.
Barry: So what part do drugs play in the life of Strange Forces? Come on, I have to ask you…
Eli: I mean, it’s just about the experience, the psychedelic experience.
Matt: I think we do believe in it as something that’s definitely real, it’s hard to describe…I think it just opens you up and makes you think clearer about stuff. It makes you realize a lot of things are just a joke.
Eli: It is something we’ve all done together…
Matt: …it’s a belief, I guess.
Eli: There’s a lot of telepathy and stuff involved that comes in the music. We’re not trained musicians, but when we jam, its part of the whole process…
Barry: As a live band you really look like a unit, connected.
Matt: For instance, I think when we create songs, we don’t talk at all, unless its fine details about a little bit of structure. But it’s pretty much all there as soon as we jam; it all just comes out and we remember it.
Eli: We’ll make a jam, and we’ll jam it three or four times…and that’s how we started, we just jammed everything.
Matt: And it felt good.
Barry: Do you think that the fact you traveled so far together as a unit, to places like Ukraine and Czech Republic, do you think that’s something that you’re going to carry in to recording the album, that its been a good gelling experience for you guys?
Matt: For sure. I think just working with the energy of the crowd, it was an experience of its own and we learnt so much from going that far…I think it’s helped the band develop so much.
Eli: It was a big learning experience for us, as a band. I think we figured a lot out, and we’re ready to try new things, record new things…
Matt: We’re really glad to get that first tour down.
Eli: I think a lot of that experience will definitely come through in the next recordings, the stuff we picked up on tour will carry through.
Strange Forces next show in Berlin is at the 8MM label night at Bassy Club on August 30th.