INTERVIEW FROM #003 VOL 2, JUNE 2022
The bar is nearly empty. A couple of semi-conscious regulars slouch in stools that have the smell of their ass cracks permanently inscribed into the long worn-down varnish. The person pouring drinks is neatly dressed, bow-tie a deep red, whiskers on their face bristling against the air from a rotating fan in the corner. A loud creak from behind purple curtains announces the entrance of the house band, three figures walking out on-stage, each with a drink in their hand and bags under their eyes. “Where the hell is she?!” yells the pig-manager from the back of the room.
Bren BROKEN CHANTEUSE sits cross-legged: elbow on knee, cheek on fist, cigarette in spare hand. Her eyeliner is baked, lipstick smeared, hair tangled, and teeth yellowed. The dressing room is dank but she likes how she looks in the mirror with the lightbulbs around the edge. She takes a drag as the distant sputter of her partner Daniel THE DOG on drums echoes down the hall. Ben THE SEAMSTRESS on bass shortly joins while Aldo THE ROCKER starts-up the familiar melody on guitar. She pulls at the hem of her sequined dress, squishes out the butt against the shaggy red carpet, and begins her walk to the creaky backstage stairs.
Wet Kiss is the avant-pop project of Brenna where she uses the archetype of the ever-in-crisis club singer to deconstruct and warp popular tropes in surreal, transgressive and confrontational ways. Her album ‘She’s So Cool’ feels like the soundtrack to a violent noir romance where every hallway is a labyrinth and every night is ‘the night’. Her voice is placed front and centre in the mix leaving no ambiguity about the imagery and vulnerability on-display. For even though the album exists in a conceptual world, the suspension of disbelief is thin and only serves as an aside to tracks which intensely deal with shame, depravity, and love. Bren’s demented love of hook and melody is contrasted by the minimalism of the compositions and tension of the lyrics. It’s fucking sick!
At Stew we think ‘She’s So Cool’ is one of the best releases of the year and uniquely pushes the boundaries of pop music across many dimensions. The album feels genuinely fresh and exciting in a way the supposed edgelords of monochromatic noise scenes around the country can only dream. Bren doesn’t hide behind textured walls of sound or use aggressive instrumentals to get her point across, and is genuinely courageous (or at least, admirable in her delusion) with what she’s saying.
S: What was the context of the Girl Prince cassette that you have up? It's electronic and very different from 'She's So Cool'.
B: Before I was doing my rock n roll music which is what I've always wanted to do, honestly. Every step I take I'm like 'I'm not worthy of being that cool, can't do that'. But yeah, I was making laptop music for years and doing that kind-of 2010s karaoke thing for a while. I didn't know how to play an instrument until 2019 or something.
Nice Music is this Melbourne tape label and they reached out to do something because they saw me performing in a squat in Footscray. I used to perform with heaps of delay pedals and there was a noise element. He was like 'you're one of the only musicians I know where I watch you and can't figure out what you're doing and how you make those sounds'. I don't think he was saying it was masterful or anything, just didn't understand and that's probably because the process itself was so idiotic. It was like sampling, but in Garageband..
S: How did you go about developing and placing your voice across ‘She’s So Cool’? It’s so exposed and vulnerable throughout...
B: Yeah for sure... I think the vocals are so present because I really wanted people to focussed on the poetry of what I was saying. That’s probably just a development of me as an artist or something, to not be scared of what I was wanting to say. I think we were making a record that was grabbing a bunch of different eclectic references. It was primarily based around this scene in my head which I described to everyone:
‘You’re a punk band at a bar and you’re the house band. I’m like this broken chanteuse who’s very vulnerable, a bit schizo, the character is always down on their luck. I wanted this kind-of sleazy jazz bar vibe even if that doesn’t come across.’
S: No no, I think it definitely does. It almost reminds me of that movie Meet The Feebles in that way.
B: Oh really? Is there a song or something from it?
S: Ummm, more just like the aesthetics of it, feels similar in how it’s playing on that trope-y bar noir vibe but in a self-aware and surreal way, simultaneously being in love with the reference point but also making fun of it.
B: Yeah exactly! That’s it, I wanted character to shine through. I hate when a singer puts their voice low in the mix and tries to hide themselves. Or when they’re not singing about anything. And that’s not to say that my music is ideologically greater than anyone else’s per se (I kind-of do think that as well), I mean, no I don’t! [laughs] It’s mine! Because it’s mine! Not because I think other people are shit. Just that so many people play it so safe!
I guess what I’m trying to say is that people are toxically so afraid to say what they’re thinking. Whether it’s political correctness or emotional anxiety or fear of showing off.
I want to be like Mick Jagger. I think that’s cool, to be referential of rock music, experimental music, but not be derivative. I don’t want to play it safe, to make something new... to be a bit, un-Australian? I guess?
S: What was the motivation behind choosing 'Hello I Love You' by the Doors as a song to cover?
Well two reasons I guess. First, I love the simplicity of the song and the message it's sending... It's kind-of about nothing and rock n roll is so fag-y and such pansy music, and I really wanted to turn that on it's head.
B: Do you know the band White Noise? It was Delia Derbyshire from the BBC who did the Dr Who theme and had a band in the 60s which was all this cut up tape from samples she collected. She made an album with all this painstaking tape cutting a year before consumer synths came out which is funny. If they had just waited a year then all this work could've just been done by programming a keyboard. But the record is patchwork-y and collaged and there's this one sound in the album that to my schizo brain sounded exactly like this one part of 'Hello I Love You' when they break and go from the verse to the outro.
So I had this idea of doing a cover of this song that would be so hated because it's so confusing and gay and macho at the same time, and then we can just do this noise segment in the middle because that sounded like that and my brain connected the dots and I couldn't get it out of my head. I wanted it to be nine minutes but everytime we tracked it, it was a 2 minute song.
So yeah... That's my reason for doing it. I almost regret it because it's like you could've chosen to cover any song and you chose literally the most nonsensical love song ever written.
S: How did the lyrics for ‘Sister Duress’ come about?
I think I had these lyrics that were playing on themes of sexual depravity of being transgender and trying to get laid and having a trans girlfriend. I was flowing in and out of questioning spirituality and religion and maybe if I was going a bit trad-cath or something. I was looking at gnostic Christianity and I think the lyrics came from a sexual melodrama of desire and shame.
I fill my verses with these poetic contexts but when I get to the chorus I just harness a Jim Morrison energy and want to have something just as punchy and catchy, and admittedly sometimes just have words that sound cool together in my head. I like hooks! I want music to be meaningful but also want it to be catchy.
When I got it mixed I was sending the mixer, Andy McEwan, Grace Jones, Sade, things that have really heavy drums and bass, like a porno.
S: I notice a lot of gentrification in gay culture in various ways. It’s sort-of a good thing because it’s so accepted, but also broadening the pool of gay people goes someway in diluting or taking the transgressive edge out it or something? I don’t know, but it seems as though it’s a quickly changing landscape and I was wondering how you think of your place in it?
B: I find it hard and disparaging and it's something that I want to separate myself from. Identity politics just divided everything so a few people could have superiority in their own minority groups. I get pissed off by that a lot because there can be no separation between how I identify and what I say -- as a trans woman, which I think is very noble and feel very connected to.
It's a part of my soul and psyche because I have asked myself deep questions, gone through humiliation and embarrassment and martyred myself to be the person I am. I think it alienates me from straight culture also because everyone is too nice to me. Other cultures I want to be apart of online will reject me because they think I'm a transhumanist or I'm a delusional invader or insane.
The 70s gay scene seemed really cool. I am as far away from that as you are, I guess. It was cool because it was genuinely underground.
S: What happened? It used to be subversive to be gay!
B: It was cool! Now gay people are perfect capitalist candidates for working and not procreating and doing all sorts of satanic shit.
Gay people invented disco! The gay male parties I go to now... You're just tokenised as a trans woman. Which I guess is fine, as long as people let you do what you want. But they're not people with handlebar moustaches and leather pants, they're just people in tank tops who work at like ANZ and are fully retarted and boring.
But I'll tell you, trans woman are mostly pretty cool. I know some psycho ones, but all the trans woman I know who do music and noise are great.
S: There seems to be a big overlap between trans women and good, fucked up music...
B: There really is! And computers as well. Obsessed with information! Trans men are their own thing as well, they have greater ties to capital F feminism. Trans men and woman generally get along in my experience...
S: I've tried to write some stuff about the co-opting of gay culture by these artists who are seeking some type of broad appeal - at least, as an outsider looking in.
B: Yeah it's so interesting you say that. My PR people are polite and nice, but said 'it's kind-of optimal for you to tell people in press statements that you're trans'. And I'm like, I am NOT doing that. I noticed sometimes it got through the cracks in their writing, and some radio people seemed to know... But I thought you can't do that to me because it's so cheap and sleazy and if people investigate the work or see my online presence, it's not like I'm trying to hide it. But you can't advertise that as the main angle.
[conversation then takes a pleasurable but unwise-to-print pivot into about 10 minutes of redacted specific shit talk about other bands]
But yeah, I don't want to hear these inner North tool bags singing about some lame shit. It completely puts me off, but they tactfully run with these politicised songs. And it's like, don't lie! All you care about is gardening and drinking beer. At least dolewave people were more honest and upfront about being these wastoids, and they felt more genuine to an Australian experience.
S: I think people pretty quickly see through that one dimensional supposed 'correct opinion' angle in music though.
B: Yeah, people are awakening to that type of shit. If corporations are using rainbow flags, you should be cynical about why they're using that. It's so lame! Your identity is being used as vehicle for millionaires. It arcs back to what we're saying about gay culture being more interesting back in the day, they had something to fight for. That struggle is healthy for creativity and activism. The one thing growing up queer, it's like 'I'm not represented anywhere so I have to go out and find my people and figure out who I am'. But now you can be gay and be a normie ~~~~