Brisbane Punks in Transition: An Interview with Dune Rats
Their 420-friendly antics have gotten them barred from Vietnam, but for the Australian stoner-punks in Dune Rats, the good times are just beginning.
"Does that make sense? Was that the question?" Danny Beusa suddenly bursts into laughter mid-interview as he pops another wasabi-coated pea into his mouth.
Dune Rats, the Brisbane-based trio, whose maniacally energetic stoner punk rock has gained great renown all around Australia and has driven fervent fans to pack their Instagram page with tattoos signifying their devotion, are getting ready to hit the road again. This time, though, Beusa admits that the band needed time to rehearse before setting off on tour. "I think with the new album we're just trying to focus heaps more on the music side of it rather than just trying to play the live shows, we've had to rehearse all the guitar parts a lot, it's way more intricate."
Having allegedly written their eponymous first record in less than a month and having recorded it over the course of a week spent inside a cloud of marijuana smoke, Dune Rats wanted to do little else but tour non-stop. "It was sort of like, we had to put out an album because we hadn't done one yet, you know, because like I said we just liked touring heaps, and we just put out songs because everyone just wanted more songs to sing or something like that. To us it was just sort of like doing something, like the industry needs and album, so we just sort of like wanted to do it, we wanted to sign to them for some cash."
Their first record packed with songs scarce in lyrics but bristling with powerful guitar riff barrages. It's not hard to see why Dune Rats have been steadily rising to the forefront of Australian punk since forming in 2011. "BC (Michaels) grew up in Brisbane; I grew up in Coffs Harbour. A lot of the kids he went to school with played in bands like Millions and Gung Ho and we knew the Violent Soho dudes and DZ Deathrays. It was a pretty good time in Brisbane, Brisbane probably had some of the best bands around Australia around that time, at least for me, it just took a while for everyone to tour and stuff and for that to spread, go outside of our cities, I think."
While touring Australia, the US and Europe presented little cultural pushback to the Dunes' ecstatic endorsement of getting "fucked up" in as many ways as possible, their video for "Red Light, Green Light", in which Michaels and Beusa continuously loop through smoking different bongs while trying to sing, got them barred from playing in Hanoi, Vietnam, in 2013. "We were just not allowed into the country; it wasn't like getting kicked out, it was just a festival that was government-sponsored. Yeah, and they saw the film clip of us smoking bongs. So yeah, I don't know if we're going to Vietnam anytime soon. I want to; it'd be sick, I'd love to. It was just a one-off thing, though. I think it was just because it was government sponsored. I think they just can't be seen to support that I imagine."
Being strong proponents of the benefits of marijuana, Beusa says they like to just stick to the music in promoting it. "We got a lot of mates who do political stuff, we just focus on the band right now. We like try and be pretty open about what we do through music and like film clips. So I guess we promote a lot of it but there are heaps of people doing way better work for it in like government since you know, it involves a lot of health benefits, we just like stay out of politics and keep smoking and writing."
While the Dunes' core spirit has remained the same on their new album The Kids Will Know It's Bullshit, this time around the band took a year to figure out what they wanted to sound like and what they wanted to say, employing FIDLAR's Zac Carper as producer. "Zac helped produce our album, so we let him take the reins, we just wanted to make different kinds of music and not have a set boundary on it. We just wanted to make sort of stoner pop music. Zac would just push me, because I would come up with something we'd want to write, and I'd do a draft of all the lyrics, and then we'd go through my lyrics and pick out lines that the guys would feel like aren't really that sick and then I'd sort of throw around different lines and it was kind of communal.
"I guess I'd just sort of put the blueprint out there, and Zac would figure out how it all will work with the melodies and then we'd all just figure out what it is," Beusa continues. "And that's what he wanted us to focus more on so it wasn't rushed because usually, I'd just do it when I'm in the vocal booth, I'd just start like changing some shit around, but now it was really taking time to write the lyrics out."
Indicative of the band's transition towards a larger focus on the songs themselves, the new album starts with "Don't Talk", a track which sees the singer being torn between wanting to continue living care-free and needing to stop, ending with a suggestion that this decision has burnt him out. In comparison, Dune Rats opened with a song which primarily consisted of the line "Dalai Lama, Big Banana, marijuana" being repeated five times.
"Don't Talk" is followed by "6 Pack", a track about growing up in a dysfunctional family and finding refuge in friendship and partying. "Counting Sheep" outlines the agony of being too anxious to fall asleep at night, while "Never Gonna Get High" concerns the double bind of being a stoner who wants to quit. Overall a major theme running through the record is the tension between growing older while trying to remain the same. According to Beusa, "We spent a lot of time just travelling together playing shows and ended up meeting a lot of people, so we tried and sort of write stuff that means more to other people, like there's heaps of stuff because we just experienced a lot of different shit and everyone has very similar experiences, they change in the details, but everyone has genuinely very similar experiences, so we just sort of like write songs communally."
In keeping with this commitment to community, the Dunes founded Ratbag Records in 2014, through which they released their debut album. "Our mates were in a band, and they didn't have a decent label to go to so we wanted to put them out and we just sort of said 'We'll start this label so we can put out bands we like.' We just see the whole industry as changed and stuff. We also had the backing of Warner as well, so Ratbag Records is an imprint of Warner, you still need the major labels nowadays. We signed that band called Skegss which was awesome, and we just started seeing other acts, which we signed, we'll release who they are pretty soon. We outsource really well, so Matty, our manager, he's like our brother, he just takes the business side of everything. I think we're going to put on a show for a bunch of people with a bunch of our mates that are on the label and some other bands who aren't on the label; we'll probably do it later this year."
Whatever you might think of the Dunes' music, their desire to improve as a band shines through both on the new record and especially on the music videos for "Scott Green" and "Bullshit". Gone are the days when they'd spend at most a hundred dollars on lighting and shoot in someone's garage. This time around they enlisted Australian filmmaker Macario De Souza to direct, and the leap in quality shows. "Yeah, our mate Kid Mac, Macario De Souza, we've known him for years, he does heaps of stuff video content wise, so he wanted to do a film clip and we had come up with the idea of a house party previously and told him about the idea and he loved it." An alternative version of the video for "Scott Green" takes innovation to a whole new level by turning it into a short game, in which you can direct the three band members as they chase the mysterious Scott Green around a world of drug-fuelled house parties.
In a year that's already seeing the most wretched parts of human nature, it's good to know that Dune Rats will continue bringing their punk Brisbane soul to everyone who needs a respite from dealing with reality.