This month I was lucky enough to snag an interview with lead singer Ben Arnold of local Perth band Verge Collection over the phone. These guys have been making major waves after winning the 2015 Triple J Unearthed competition. This victory would have granted them the right to play at the 2016 Southbound Festival, had the south west suffered a less scourgeful fire season. Instead, they played at the Red Cross Fire Fundraiser in January.
Did you enjoy playing In the Pines at UWA in April?
Playing at The Pines was our first festival gig, which was really fun and a big opportunity for us. It was also cool that The Pines was the name of the event and then you get there and there’s a fuckload more pine trees than you were expecting.
It’s obvious from how busy you have been since the beginning of last year – recently playing The Pines as well as at SOTA (State Of The Art Festival), and with the Stonefield tour looming over east in July – that you guys love to play live. Is any extended recording on the horizon?
Yes, we’re sorting out the release schedule for new our EP now. We’ll announce the coming of the second single sometime towards the end of June, early July. The EP should be out well before the end of the year and we will be doing another tour on the top of that. Which means we’ll be doing a hectic four tours over seven or eight months. I’m also busy with my day job so this is putting me on edge…
Who would you look forward to playing alongside in 2016, other than your mates from Hip Priest and The Sperts?
The 6th of June was a rainy WA Day when I first heard Verge Collection at Elizabeth Quay, during this month’s State of the Art Festival. The festival was a celebration of WA’s ever-increasing surplus of musical talent, with major domestic acts including Jebediah, San Cisco, The Love Junkies and Mosquito Coast. It was the Verge boys though who especially caught my eye with their catchy Australiana pop sounds and late adolescent angsty lyrics about drinking goon in the park and the discovery of true social and self-resentment that comes from leaving behind your parents’ safety net.
“Feel Bad Songs” is my favourite of yours, but I love this lyric in “Class of ‘09” – “you and your mates pretending to be lower class”. Are all the members of Verge from a similar middle class suburban background, or are you more like a smorgasbord of different upbringings?
I think so – none of us have yachts or anything. Andy is from the country. So is Barry, he’s a Bunbury or Mandurah boy. I grew up in Brentwood, and Bryn is from Inglewood.
A lot of your lyrics are about the pains of growing up and the challenges of being in your twenties. For example, the song “Class of ‘09” is an exploration of your self-doubt, self-resentment and self-disillusionment as a young person. Has your writing about these issues felt therapeutic?
When I wrote about those issues in “Class of ‘09”, “Our Place” and “Feel Bad Songs”, it was definitely therapeutic. But now, even though the songs are only a year old, I’m in a completely different spot. Having to perform and re-enact those lyrics and emotions over again as time progresses – it gets a bit tedious. Even if it’s been slow going, I have grown somewhat since I first wrote those words… And yeah – one day I’m going to get that self-sufficiency and security I keep hearing about.
What experience did you gain from leaving home and house-sharing?
Some self-management, but mostly bitterness. It’s really fun for a while but having to pay rent without having a job for a long time really sucks. Then you start thinking that mum’s not too far away and you might be able to just slide back into the good old days of not having to pay for food or a roof over your head… No regrets though. Never any regrets escaping the house.
What has been more helpful in getting you through, the ‘goon or the silver spoon’?
Personally, I haven’t seen much service from the silver spoon, so probably keeping in good spirits with a couple of beers has been most helpful. I was genuinely on the dole back then, but now I work full-time as a kitchen fitter. I guess I feel a little like a sell-out duping people into thinking I’m still hell poor – but obviously a person’s circumstances change.
Have you found Perth to be a difficult place to take off as a musician?
Apart from slightly expensive touring, there’s not really any problem in terms of being noticed and recognised compared to other cities. Like any project it would help if there was more opportunity to be paid. Working a full-time job on the side makes it hard to take yourself seriously as a musician and really takes the energy and momentum out of any other projects a person has going.
Really what you need is to be kind of lucky, rather skilful, a little edgy, and write songs people can relate to – ‘goon bags in the park’ included. But we sure don’t want that image to follow us around forever.
The fact that Perth is small is also really helpful in that you get to meet a lot of the music scene. You’re not constantly having to perform around musicians that you can’t put a face to and can’t have a laugh with.
You have made some fantastic music videos for “Our Place” and “Feel Bad Songs” with upcoming director John McGovern. “Our Place” is especially interesting as it resembles Alice in Wonderland, with shrinking and growing medicines – except of course the main character is a down-on-his-luck bearded giant instead of a little girl. Can we expect any more music videos soon, and what themes are likely to be explored?
We had a film crew from abroad try to make us a music video for “Class of ‘09”. It looked really nice, but the theme and plot were an absolute stinker.
In terms of future videos, because a lot of our lyrics are so graphic in imagery, we don’t want our videos to just be literal cheesy re-enactments. So, probably nothing that looks much like “Our Place” or “Feel Bad Songs”. We don’t want to be the band that focuses all their energy on looking like rock stars or gooners. We want something creative but that doesn’t necessarily tie up to the lyrics.
Interview by Reuben Wylie