This is how Process, the new album from Pinch Points, begins: a starkly isolated voice cries, “I get anxious” three times, before any instrument even kicks in. As introductory statements go, the band couldn’t have picked a more brutally illuminating message.
On their second album, the Melbourne punks aren’t messing around when it comes to discussing just what makes them so anxious. The myriad issues of current Australia are processed in the songs: police brutality, environmental damage, and gendered violence are dissected with a forthrightness that never veers into moralising.
This is not necessarily unique territory for a punk band – Sleaford Mods and IDLES have led the charge for overt political commentary in the genre in the U.K. recently – but how Pinch Points carve out their space in an increasingly crowded field is through the undercurrent of positivity that exudes from Process.
The aggression displayed towards the ills of society is balanced by a keenly-observed compassion for mental health, both personal and general; for a band so enmeshed in the tight-knit Melbourne music scene, their innate sense of community makes sense. In a time supremely lacking of it, witnessing a band like Pinch Points emboldening their rip-roaring punk with empathy and sincerity is a welcome thing.
Before a supporting slot with IDLES at the end of the year, Pinch Points are set to tour their new album around regional Victoria next month (see full dates here). The album launch will take place at The Corner on Saturday, April 2nd, with support provided by MOD CON, Alien Nosejob, and Our Carlson (tickets on sale now).
To celebrate the release of Process, we caught up with the four-piece to discuss the album in more depth.
Process is out now via Mistletone Records and Exploding in Sound.
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TD: When and where was the album recorded?
PP: March 2021 at Audrey Studios in Coburg. It only took a week!
I’m loath to call it a pandemic record but songs like ‘I Feel Anxious’ feel particularly influenced by it. Do you think Process would be a completely different record if it hadn’t been released after COVID-19?
For the most part, the core themes of the album – mental health, social and climate issues, etc – were already laid out before the pandemic set in and will endure beyond the pandemic. But certain tracks definitely gained a further layer of meaning in a pandemic context, kind of like how these issues were exacerbated by the pandemic.
“I feel anxious when I go outside” and “I get anxious when the doorbell rings” – as someone who’s been through Melbourne’s six lockdowns, such lines really resonated. How did you all individually deal with the unending uncertainty of Melbourne during the worst of COVID? More specifically, how was it for the band itself, preparing to play gigs and record and having things repeatedly cancelled?
Individually, we had varied experiences throughout the marathon of lockdowns: some of us kept 9-to-5’s the whole way through, some went for many months with no work… The pandemic set in off the back of a great run for us as a band (playing Golden Plains, touring with Tropical F*ck Storm, in the midst of writing the album), which was hard. Our group writing process didn’t translate well to online collaboration, but we all knew we’d make it out the other side eventually. The project was a light at the end of the tunnel and something to look forward to.
The songwriting session for ‘Reasons to be Anxious’ must have been extremely easy – just scrolling Twitter should have sufficed for material.
Scrolling our own anxious brains was all we needed.
I really like ‘Am I Okay?’. It felt like a begrudging waving of the white flag: a concession that the systemic issues in society are often too much to bear. When it comes down to the root of it, do you think the personal always overrules the universal?
Each informs the other. ‘Am I Okay?’ was written from a place of angry empathy: “stop worrying! stop shouting!” – just stop, breathe, and work through what you’re feeling, because you might be valuable but you owe it to me to be there for yourself.
How easy have you found it to practice what you preach? Have you all been making sure to ask yourself if you’re okay?!
It’s a constant work in progress. Hearing and singing that line to yourself over and over is a good reminder to check in with yourself, but by the same token, the words can lose a bit of meaning if you’re going into performance autopilot. We’re trying our best.
Tell me about why you chose to name a song ‘Haruspex’.
In ancient Rome, a haruspex would examine the entrails of animals in order to divine the will of the gods; we’re just connecting that theme with gendered violence. It keeps happening regardless of how well we discuss or dissect the issue, and the cycle of murder and op-eds feels more like a ritual than genuine progress.
I appreciated the reworking of Iggy Pop’s ‘I’m Bored’ in ‘Haruspex’. While not necessarily referencing Iggy, do you have a difficult time processing when your punk antecedents go against what they used to stand for? I’m thinking, for example, of John Lydon coming out as a Donald Trump fan.
The Iggy reference (and the awkward feeling of building a hero up only to be let down by them later) feels like a ‘kill your idols’ moments. Flipping the perspective from a man singing ‘I bore myself to sleep at night’ to two women saying ‘we scare ourselves to sleep at night’, served to shake up a familiar lyric into something fitting for a song driving home the frustrating repetitiveness of trying to make progress on issues of gendered violence.
It’s tough reckoning with punk icons or ‘rockstar’ figures being romanticised despite exhibiting questionable behaviour. When they overtly change their tune and do something terrible it’s fairly easy to get disillusioned with them, but when behaviour like treating women inappropriately fails to taint most male musicians’ reputations, that’s potentially scarier.
Who thought to include the sample of Scott Morrison’s coal speech at the beginning of ‘Virga’?
We were keen to experiment with what fits in the ‘world’ of Pinch Points. Sampling this infamous speech straight-up and unedited felt too kind, so Adam (Corcoran-Smith) rejigged the order to be Morrison condemning coal. And we wanted to make him sound like the soulless grub he is with a little pitch-shifting.
Naming a song ‘Kompromat’ – a term particularly related to Russia – feels eerily prescient. Did you have any particular campaigns of misinformation in mind while writing the song?
‘Kompromat’ was written as a character study of the bogeyman some people seem to imagine when they describe cancel culture (and getting cancelled can absolutely get you on the gravy train). There’s such hysteria around it all. If we’re such a bunch of effete soy-sippers, why are we such a threat?
How was it working with Anna Laverty (Courtney Barnett, Nick Cave)? Was it a seamless process working with a producer for the first time?
It was great! Considering it was a big change from our previous at-home recording setup, it did feel like an easy and natural process. She guided us on parts that needed extra fleshing out.
How strong do you think the punk and post-punk scene is in Australia right now? Do you think, in an unfortunate way, it’s been enhanced by the myriad issues in the country recently?
Even though punk (or at least the attention given to punk) is always strengthened by adversity, the energy underlying it is always there; it’s just a question of whether you decide to turn away or towards problems. Child poverty has doubled in Australia since the 90s; blak kids are still getting shot by cops. Does a royal commission or a parliamentary report change that?
Do you look at the recent international success of a band like Amyl and the Sniffers and think, “that could be us?”
When we wonder if we’ll ever make a living from the band, looking at the success Amyl has had is definitely something we look to. They work hard. And the notoriety the Melbourne scene is gaining is really nice to be situated in.
I wanted to get your thoughts on Melbourne’s music scene. I was writing about the sale of The Curtin earlier this week and getting dismayed. Has the pandemic exposed a fragility at the heart of the city’s scene? Are you hopeful for its future?
It’s shit news about The Curtin’s predicament. The pandemic has shown the cracks in the financial sustainability and stability of the music industry: venues and pubs struggling to stay afloat with restrictions, workers in this gig-economy losing months of income and livelihood overnight, and artists losing income. That was always going to fall apart when the scene relies on boots on the ground. And the city’s response matters: are we seriously going to jumpstart the industry by bringing in the Foo Fighters? Is that what the grassroots needs to flourish?
I can’t remember any other city that I’ve been to that has such a profound hold on its bands. Most of the people I speak to can’t ever envisage leaving the city. Is this the same for Pinch Points? Could you ever foresee a move to somewhere like London?
London sounds nice but it’s expensive enough here! We do have big roots in Melbourne; three of the band have lived here most of our lives, and it can feel hard to imagine leaving the community we’ve become a part of here.
I know you’re also involved in a lot of other Melbourne projects so now’s the time to plug them! Is anything else happening with your other work currently?
Issy (Orsini)’s band Jungle Breed have an album in the works for later this year, Jordan (Oakley) spins the latest and greatest underground tracks on his PBS show Underground Love, and Acacia (Coates) has been writing and recording with Winter McQuinn and Slush and hopes to put out releases with these projects sometime soon.
I know you’ve spoken a lot about the importance of friendship within Pinch Points. Have you felt that your bonds have only strengthened being together through the last two years?
Sometimes, yes, given that two of us live together – but there comes a point when you realise you’re all so caught up in your own problems that you mightn’t be giving the space for others to process theirs; you might be too preoccupied. We might make time to let one another vent, but after you tune in you need to turn up. Friendship is an action.
How important is locating a sense of empathy in your songs? Are you wary of becoming bogged down by constantly writing about such serious subjects?
Empathy and sincerity is the main way we deal with this stuff. It all comes from a place of saying, “This hurts me; this matters to me.” If we’re bogged down by the topics, it’s just because we’re bogged down by feelings – which is okay!
Are you also wary of coming off as didactic in your songs? Are you always conscious to only detail your observations about issues rather than instruct?
We put consideration and care into how we say things and we’ve gotten stuck on language and wording at times, but like we mentioned, getting bogged down in that stuff stops you getting what you’re trying to say out.
How difficult was it to strike a good balance between pessimism and optimism in the album?
When writing the songs we didn’t question the balance too much and just rolled with the ideas as they came, but we did put a fair bit of consideration into it when choosing the track listing: setting the tone with a frantic track, then weaving through frustrations and moments of compassion, and closing with something more optimistic.
That’s absolutely massive news about the IDLES tour. How did that come about?
Our booker, Tom, had been working behind the scenes since the tour was announced, and managed to nab it. Normally, our bookings are organised through email; Tom called us for this one. We’re stoked.
Will those be the biggest shows you’ve played to date?
We opened at Golden Plains in 2020, which was ballistic, but the IDLES tour will be the biggest run of large shows we’ve had.
You’ve got your own tour coming up as well? Excited to take this album on the road?
Absolutely. After being locked in for so long, it’ll be great to get on the road. We’re doing regional Vic and then Europe. We’ve got no idea what to expect over there but sometimes you just have to hold your breath and jump!