The Tommyhawks launch new single ‘Critical’ at Rodney’s Bait n Tackle on Saturday 10 November. To help get people in the mood, Around The Sound spoke to Thea Woodward (Sax/Vocals) and Jess June (Drums).
Read on for an exclusive preview of the video for 'Critical'.
It’s the Friday of WAMFest 2018 and The Tommyhawks have just brought their uniquely female take on blues infused punk to Perth venue The Sewing Room. They’re sweaty and exhilarated and, after they’d spent time mingling with their very appreciative fans, I got the opportunity to sit down and chat with Thea (Woodward, Sax) and, making a slightly delayed appearance at our sit down, Jess (June, Drums), who I was told rarely does interviews. Turns out tonight June had plenty to say, including a shout out to a fellow Perth muso (more on that later).
The Tommyhawks are one of the country’s hardest working bands. In the five years they’ve been together they’ve clocked up more frequent flyer miles that most stuffy business execs would in a lifetime, travelling Australia to play venues in countless cities and regional towns. They’ve also spent probably more than their fair share of time in camper vans, so that seemed like a reasonable place to get the conversation started.
JJ: “I can’t remember any of the good times, only the bad times ...”
TW: “Oh!” (Sharp intake of breath, genuinely worried that the conversation is immediately going south. Maybe this is why June hardly ever does interviews?)
JJ: "... Nah. I fucking love it!"
Aaaaand, we’re back.
Woodward takes up the story over raucous laughter from June.
TW: “It depends on the length of the trip, to be honest. It takes a few days to get used to each other.”
JJ: “It depends on how many caravan parks you’ve got access to. If you don't have caravan parks, you can get a bit ‘dusty’ after a while.”
TW: “When we got really rich – not a true story – we decided that we couldn’t actually handle a camper van without a toilet because we’d had this horrific experience after a gig. To clarify things, we’re very adept stopping at the side of the road to do what we need to do. It’s fine. But, we had this gig in Sydney at Frankie’s Pizza, which is in the Sydney CBD. We do it every time we go on tour. We do the gig either on a Sunday or a Thursday night and we park the camper van in a clearway. If we don’t wake up early enough [the next day] we get to the point where ...”
Here at Around The Sound we’re lucky enough to be AAA with a whole bunch of rock stars, it’s what we do. And that means we hear some things, lurid tales of life on the road, that aren’t common knowledge. Most of the time we’re OK with that. Publish and be damned! This time we’re going to leave what came out of Woodward’s mouth next to the reader’s imagination. Suffice to say it involved a lack of available public amenities, concrete for miles on end and one still quite refreshed band in need of an immediate comfort stop. The result? The Tommyhawks now go on the road in a camper van with a toilet and, more recently, have upgraded themselves to staying in accommodation without wheels, backpackers’ hostels mostly. Ah, the lifestyles of the rich and famous!
Before continuing, if you ever have the pleasure of meeting Woodward, June or the other two Tommyhawks (Vanessa Thornton, Bass and Addison Axe, Vocals/Guitar), maybe don’t ask them what happens when you don’t get around to servicing the toilet on a camper van after you’ve been on the road for a few days or more. At least not just after you’ve eaten, anyway.
OK, enough! On to the music.
In their five years together, The Tommyhawks have always had the same line up. Musically, it gives them an edge. They’re built around a tight and exquisitely adept rhythm section over which the guitar and sax provides seemingly endless colour that gives their vocalist, Axe, plenty of space to roam. Their music feeds on the soft loud dynamic that a lot of bands reach for but never quite nail. The Tommyhawks do it effortlessly and then layer on top of those dynamics eternal grooves that audiences can’t help but move to. It’s little wonder they’re so loved across the country and that they’re never far away from their next gig.
JJ: “If someone leaves, it’s over. We stick together.”
TW: “It’s the dynamic. I’m sure, musically, anyone could be replaced, but personality wise, I don’t think so. I think we just enjoy each other’s company so much and the group dynamic works. We’re all quite different and it’s kinda cool.
JJ: “The most special thing about it [the group dynamic] is our stage presence, I think, the way we interact on stage. It doesn’t matter what happens on that day, once we’re up there [on stage], it all just falls away, it’s like, Boom! it just works.
TW: “We never bring our shit on stage.”
Sorry, they keep coming back to the camper van incident.
TW: “I think we’re all very aware that that’s how it has to be [on stage] and we really cherish that.”
Asked to dig deeper into The Tommyhawk’s music, the two bandmates look at each other as if to say, ‘You go first.’ After a moment, they begin to piece together their ideas on the band’s sound.
TW: “We play party music with meaning. I think Axe is a very conscious songwriter. Some of her songs may seem fickle and all the rest of it, but if you actually sit down and read the lyrics and pay attention to what she’s saying, you’ll find she writes very much from the heart, which is an interesting and enjoyable way of writing songs. As a band we just join in, it’s like, ‘OK, cool, she’s singing about things she’s obviously thought about,’ and we help to bring that to life when we bring the songs together.”
JJ: “We wear our hearts on our sleeves. Bloody oath!”
TW: “What about Ness [Thornton]?”
(They’re interviewing themselves now. Job done!)
JJ: [Indecipherable. It’s fair to say that June’s attention has wandered a little by this point in our conversation, she has other things on her mind.]
TW: “I think her [Thornton’s] heart’s tucked away. She plays with so much soul, anyway. I think the rest of us are all quite emotional, aren’t we?”
Hearing this, June is laughing again (everything she says is punctuated with joyful/maniacal laughter) her eyes focused on the stage where the next band is part way through their set. Then she comes up with this pearler.
JJ: “Yes, we are very emotional. Four girls, one band. You should see it. Jesus Christ!”
TW: “I think we’re quietly emotional. If you think of four women touring, you’d imagine a lot of drama, but I think we’re all aware of not inflicting our shit on each other.”
Again with the camper van incident!
JJ: “We’re five years in. We know each other inside out now.”
At this point, our conversation ends abruptly. Unable to restrain herself any more, June, shows just what it means when a Tommyhawk wears her heart on her sleeve.
I love Luke Dux! He’s the best guitar player.
And with that, June wanders off to be closer to her idol. Woodward and I agree through silent assent that it’s time to stop talking and follow June back to side of stage to enjoy some more live music.
A couple of days later, I caught up with The Tommyhawks’ singer and lyricist, Addison Axe. Here's what she had to say about the new single, ‘Critical’.
“The song was initially inspired by one particularly mean online review. My mum is an amazing author and illustrator, she writes books for kids, teens and young adults. She'd just finished this absolutely incredible sci fi trilogy, with a strong female lead. When the first book came out this one woman (complete stranger) went online and absolutely slated the book, and its protagonist. She didn't like it, it wasn't her thing - that's totally cool. But the way she did it was extremely personal and cruel, and was really upsetting.”
“Despite getting hundreds of fab reviews and comments, this mean one was so poisonous that it drowned out all the others in my Mum’s mind. Since then I've had so, so, so many muso friends experience exactly the same thing. People have no idea how vulnerable you are when you're an artist. Be it music, literature, art, or anything else, the thing that you create is an extension of yourself. Once upon a time journalism was an art, and critics thought about their opinion and had a reputation to uphold. Now any old person can get up there and vent at someone else's expense.”
As a female a lot of your work is critiqued against the backdrop of your physique, and experiences that should be a massive life achievement, like releasing a book or album, or exhibition, or performing on TV become about the size of your tits.
“The video clip for ‘Critical’ is an animation that shows just how toxic online critics can be. All the comments in our video clip are based on real life social media comments. Some are literally screen shots.”
See, party music with meaning. That’s The Tommyhawks.
The Tommyhawks launch ‘Critical’ on Saturday 10 November at Rodney’s Bait n Tackle. For more information, check out the event page here.