tunesday – the goon sax interview
Riley Jones tells us about the making of Mirror II and finding the confidence to write.
Brissie trio The Goon Sax were only in high school when they first started making music together, but their songs – filled with scrappy instrumentation, poppy melodies and witty, heart-achingly relatable lyrics – instantly earned them a loyal fanbase. Swapping instruments and taking turns to sing and play has always been how Riley Jones, Louis Forster and James Harrison roll, but their third album Mirror II goes a step further. It’s the first time Riley, the band’s drummer, penned her own songs for a Goon Sax record. Here, Riley tells us how it all came together and how YouTube parties helped the band find new sounds.
Melburnians can catch The Goon Sax live on June 3rd as part of Rising.
How does it feel finally getting your new record out in the world after so long? It feels amazing. We spent about two years writing the album before recording it in 2020. We've been feeling like we belong in this new record for so long, but when people talk about our music, they're always relating back to our last two albums. It feels like we're playing catch-up now.
Do you feel like you’ve grown a fair bit since? Definitely. As a band, we weren't really sure where we were going next. So we did a bit of searching. We had to find a new way to approach this. We all started searching through cultures and subcultures and going down rabbit holes where we hadn't been before to breathe life into a project that we've been working on since we were 15.
What kind of rabbit holes did you go down? I played in a very angular post-punk band called Soot with James. And I started playing noise music in a band called Mystic Fire, playing free jazz drums, and getting into music like that.
It was through finding these other avenues that I was able to find a way to write music for The Goon Sax on this album, which I haven’t done before. Jim and Louis were such good songwriters and I felt like there was a lot of pressure when it came to writing that I wasn't able to do it on the first two albums. James and Louis have learnt guitar since they were young because both their families are very musical. They've been writing songs since forever, but I really have no musical background other than drumming since the band started.
How did you build your song-writing confidence? That was through playing improvised music. There’s this ’80s band Throbbing Gristle from the UK and they have this mentality where even though they didn't know how to play music when they started the band, they would just pick up whatever they could and find a way to play it.
So I felt like I got the hang of songwriting from playing in other bands and doing projects where I could write very impulsively – there was no block because nobody expected anything. I was doing my own thing. I knew what it felt like when I was onto something.
What did the writing process for Mirror II look like? We were living together in a sharehouse (James, Louis and I and a bunch of friends) that we called Fantasy Planet. It was six of us in four bedrooms because we needed really cheap rent. There were instruments everywhere. Louis and James had written a lot of the songs already, but because the album was such a long process, we ended up rewriting and restructuring and changing the sound while living together.
We were all experimenting a lot and taking more risks. And I think because we were all living in such close quarters, we really needed to find our own space. We kind of retreated into our heads a lot – our imaginations just went wild for better or worse. It was an intense process! I wouldn’t necessarily do it again.
What influenced your sound this time round? We used to have a lot of YouTube parties with our friends, where everyone sits around watching YouTube videos. Everybody takes a turn picking a song and it’s a good way to find new music. So that’s how we went down all these rabbit holes that I mentioned. A lot of our friends are really into ’90s rock and pop, so we were inspired by this grungy, but very cheesy and nostalgic feeling. I think that influence really seeped in.
Very few people get to grow up and document their teenage experience in music and play that to people all over the world. How do you feel when you listen back to some of your old stuff? I feel a real fondness towards the songs. I have definitely been through phases where I thought “Oh, that's too personal!” or “That’s too cringey!” because a lot of the early stuff is very honest. I thought I'd had a lot of distance from these songs, but we just started preparing for our live shows and have been practicing again and the other week I cried! I was like “This stuff is so sad!” It takes you right back to that feeling.
When we started as a band, we were really into twee music; really pure, direct songs. When we started writing this album, we were tempted to obscure everything because we felt like we'd let people too close to our personal feelings. But we realised we didn't want to try to be somebody else. So we came back around to writing songs that people can really connect with. And I'm glad we did, because I think it made for a much more emotionally mature record.
What do you think you'd be doing if music didn't work out for you? I've always done art and I do a lot of pottery and painting. So maybe I would have gone to art school. During the pandemic I got a diploma in sound engineering, actually, so I think if it didn't work out, I'd work in a studio and do sound.
What part-time jobs have you been keeping up? I’ve been doing a lot of mind-numbing filing. And also doggy babysitting. It's so uplifting.
What advice would you give your 16-year-old self? I felt like not having a background in music meant that everybody else knew so much more than me. I felt that knowing how to play was a really elusive, unattainable thing. But I’d like to go back and tell myself that it’s not. You can never stop learning more. I’d go back to the start and ask more questions and just start practicing. And maybe take more control in terms of sound and writing.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell frankie readers? This is completely irrelevant, but I’ve been trying to make teardrops for our new music video. I want it to look like we’re all crying in the video so I’ve used a hot glue gun, but now the tears are completely glued to the surface I made them on. So this is not really advice, but I wouldn’t do it again. Be careful with a hot glue gun.