‘SHYGA! The Sunlight Mound’ & Post-Tourmatic Stress Disorder: An Interview with Psychedelic Porn Crumpets

Psychedelic Porn Crumpets © Tristan McKenzie
Psychedelic Porn Crumpets © Tristan McKenzie
Psychedelic Porn Crumpets’ Jack McEwan discusses the aftermath of touring, how Australia’s relative success with COVID is slowly bringing back live music, and the revival of psychedelia.
“Tally-Ho” – Psychedelic Porn Crumpets




For Psychedelic Porn Crumpets, the psych rock revival of the past decade or so has come as a surprise. As Jack McEwan (vocals, guitar) tells it, “The reason we started it was because it was like, “let’s fuck the mainstream and make this kind of music!’” Though they’re often compared to other acts in the Australian psychedelic rock lineage like Tame Impala and King Gizzard, however favorably, The Porn Crumpets are forging their own identity with – to name just a few – a unique combination of ripping guitar riffs, tongue-in-cheek jabs at the absurdities in life, and a plethora of unique claymation videos for their tracks.

SHYGA! The Sunlight Mound - Psychedelic Porn Crumpets
SHYGA! The Sunlight Mound – Psychedelic Porn Crumpets

SHYGA! The Sunlight Mound (released February 5th through What Reality?) sees The Porn Crumpets experimenting with new sounds, most pointedly among them electronic samples that break up the relentless action of the rest of the tracks. Each song on SHYGA! is a punchy statement unto itself; while the album doesn’t lose any of the sonic exploration of previous Crumpets efforts, songs on SHYGA! almost perform a sleight of hand, smuggling crazy psychedelic rockers into a radio-or-streaming friendly 3-4 minutes.

Atwood also got the opportunity to talk to McEwan about a rather unique situation in the English speaking world: relative success with COVID, and the slow, cautious reemergence of the live music scene.

Above all, SHYGA! proves pure, unrelenting fun and a terrific new release in the ever-evolving psychedelic rock scene.

‘SHYGA! The Sunlight Mound’ – Psychedelic Porn Crumpets

A CONVERSATION WITH PSYCHEDELIC PORN CRUMPETS

SHYGA! The Sunlight Mound - Psychedelic Porn Crumpets

Atwood Magazine: SHYGA! Shyga? How are you saying it?

Jack McEwan: SHYGA! The Sunlight Mound! I was listening to heaps of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and I really like the fact they have the exclamation mark in the name – already before you’ve listened to it, you’re like “wow, I’m going to expect something huge here.” I knew it had to have an exclamation mark. I wanted it to sound triumphant, like this eureka sound. So I was like, “SHYGA! The Sunlight Mound (laughs). And I just kept laughing at it every time I read it in my notes, so I just had to call the album that.

I feel like it’s something you don’t see in mainstream stuff, that willingness to be silly with it and do something really fun. Everything’s self-serious and ironic.

Jack McEwan: It has turned that way hasn’t it? It’s almost more emotional now than it used to be. You’d probably not get another band like the ’90s America nu-metal. If you’re aware of yourself and you can take the piss out of it, it’s a little tongue in cheek – like Ween, Primus – I love those bands, but now it’s like feelings or no feelings. We’re like the most serious-non-serious band I think is a good way of putting it.

So SHYGA! might be the fullest album, in terms of sound, that the Crumpets have released so far, but the production keeps the album pretty tight. How did you approach this record that differed from previous albums? I saw somewhere online that High Visceral 1 and 2 were basically bedroom records.

Jack McEwan: Yeah. Well, we still have the really bad technique of using the worst quality production. If it’s done and it’s tight, we’re like “sweet, we’ll use it.” We’ve only recently started to step our game up in productionland and start thinking a bit more about “okay, I think people are listening to this now.” For a while it was just us writing music that we enjoyed and saying, well here’s the record. I think we’ve sort of got to that stage where it’s like, shit, let’s step our game up and stay away from the lo-fi thing.

The way we got there was because there were two concepts originally for the record. The original concept was to create an album for this fictional character, Sir Norton Gavin. He was supposed to be this old salty sea dog from down south in the bottom half of West Australia. He was supposed to be a folklore figure – everyone would be like, “oh he’s got the best band in Australia.” So we’d take that concept and cover his songs.

Then it sounded a bit weird and we said, well I don’t think anyone’s gonna get it. We had all this mismatch of 70s metal, 70s rock, even full Iron Maidan shit and we were thinking, “well what’s going on here?” It’s not gonna make sense. For that concept we had “Pukebox,” “Mr. Prism,” and “Mundungus.” I loved those. From there, I was watching loads of – you know the AI Google Deep Dream stuff?

Oh my god, yeah.

Jack McEwan: You’re just, holy fuck this is insane. So I thought, what if we could do that? Make a supercomputer that tried to make a 70s rock record. It gave us a concept where we could use all the glitchy samples and lo-fi standards. We know we sound like a lo-fi ’70s band, so we tried to use that to our advantage. There were a lot of songs left off the record which we probably needed the Royal Blood approach, a big tall sound. We didn’t think we’d achieve that by ourselves and bought a universal audio console. My old focusrite was dead by the end of all of this.

So I heard the drums had a lot of Queens of the Stone Age influence. Can you tell me about that?

Jack McEwan: We recorded half the album in that sort of style, sampling each drum individually, and it started sounding massive. The drum parts lost a bit of that sparkle and you could start to hear it sounding more robotic rather than a nice flow. Just having that lead adds to that 70s flavor. It’s not perfect, and those nuances give the album it’s character. It sounds more alive. You can probably hear Danny [PPC’s drummer] breathing, it’s so heavy. But we just left it all in! I liked that, so we scrapped the QOTSA energy, but it was a big influence at the start of recording.

This might be kind of a hack question at this point in the pandemic, but how has COVID affected the recording process for a guitar album? I feel like electronic music probably has less to lose from not collaborating in person than rock.

Jack McEwan: Yeah. I think the first part was the album was supposed to be released in March. We literally had half the songs semi-finished. This was last March. There was an album idea, but a part of me was like “oh thank god, I can actually work.” Obviously no one wanted it to go this long, but for the first time since the band’s beginning, we actually had a big break to work on something that we wanted to work on. I think that for us was a godsend. We could focus on one album and get one nice cohesive sound.

I was lucky. I just record anything here [at my home] anyway. They were like “right, now you have to stay inside for two months and don’t come out your bedroom!” I was like [cheering], oh it was amazing. No flights, no one to wake me up at six and try to get me to drive eight hours.

I reflected on all the stuff from tour. We call it Post Tourmatic Stress Disorder but it’s Tourmatic. You have these dreams where you remember these strange nights where you have to acknowledge that yeah, oh shit that happened. America’s one of the worst for it man. I couldn’t believe it when we went there – it’s been amazing both times, but man it’s just a wild place.

When we got home from that, I always describe it like – that one Rick and Morty episode where they get in their ship and just start crying profusely. That’s what you do – you get home and that’s what it’s like.

So I thought, let’s just base the album around those experiences, how tour is so wild. Keep the album fast paced. COVID allowed us to hone in and keep the narrative going.

Are you willing to share any of those experiences in the US that made you go like, “oh god!”

Jack McEwan: I woke up in a car park standing up. That was pretty impressive. Our tour manager was the only person I’ve seen sleeping standing up. But it was because I’d been out in Columbus [OH], and we had to drive to Nashville next day. We ended up at this weird pool bar.

I don’t know – in America coke is just free. In Australia it’s so expensive that it’s not really a thing here. We were like what is this? So we ended up off with randoms in the middle of America, and this guy had to message the Porn Crumpets Instagram to be like, “we found one of your troops.” Woke up in Nashville just, oh my god. Everyone’s got a tour story like that.

I’m just drinking tea. For the rest of my tour days, just give me tea.

SHYGA! is relentless - when I see the album cover I immediately think of that thundering beat that dominates “Tally-ho.” How do you expect it’ll play in live settings?

Jack McEwan: Well we’ve managed to play a lot of these songs in Perth at the moment. We can’t tour them, but we’ve been pillaging Perth with them. The way we record is making a song at home or in the studio, but because I’m playing four or five guitar parts I never know what my part is or what Luke’s part is. So we have this period where we’re learning to play the songs again, and it’s weird cause they never end up sounding like the album. They do enough after like two years, but “Tally-Ho” is slowly becoming one of the funnest songs to play, Mr. Prism as well. There’s no way we thought we’d be able to do that with all the source samples going on.

It feels like two bands – we’ve got the live band and the recording band. When we do play live, everything steps up a notch. It’s like a punk show, everything’s fast-paced, there’s lots of adrenaline. We don’t really play the softer songs, though we eventually want to. We’re just more comfortable playing the headbanging songs. “Tally-ho” sounds mean, “Mr. Prism” as well. “The Terrors” is one of the hardest songs. Sometimes I forget to take breaths in the studio so live I can just be [gasps].

We’re like a Porn Crumpets cover band! That’s kind of what we are.

Following up on that, what kind of energy were you trying to channel on SHYGA!? To me the album is extremely cohesive and all the songs seem pointed at creating more of a portrait with sound than anything else.

Jack McEwan: I think that for us was the main focus. We’ve been fortunate enough to be part of this vinyl resurgence, and I think with High Visceral we just wanted to create an album where we knew we’d have a part two. People were buying vinyl. From start to finish, we knew we wanted it to be thematically there. The album rises – literally rises, it starts with sunrise and ends with sunset, I think the vocals have that where it’s swaying between on tour, hangover, post-tour, comedown. You’ve got this movement of a big bender of a holiday or night our or weekend. The idea was to keep it really fast paced but have moments where it shifts, like in “More Glitter,” and you can have a breath, round the corner, more towards the end of the album.

We were listening to the album thinking, god this is relentless up to this point, so we added these little intros, or even just a little sample of something to get your brain off the old rhythm before it rocketed back to another part. We wanted to have all these extra little parts to make the album sound different enough that when you do come back a second or third time you say – “whoa, what was that? I didn’t pick that up.”

The sampling element was really interesting to me. There’s this sense that it’s an album that could be played on the radio, but there’s this sleight of hand in that you incorporate all these things you wouldn’t normally hear in a radio hit. Can you tell me more about the samples you used?

Jack McEwan: The samples of the arcade stuff was all just on our phones from somewhere in America where we were just hooked on pinball. Every pub we played at had a pinball machine! You don’t really get that in Perth, we felt like The Who. All it is is my guitar, but I’ve fucked them by transposing them down a couple octaves, tracking a sample on recording it, then flipping it back up another four octaves. It added its own element.

The vocal samples, we had these nursery rhymes for kids from the 70s of Australian children singing. It was really kind of terrifying. There would be this ringleader asking, “are you happy kids?” And then all the kids going “yeah!” We warped all that, reversed half of it, and put it back in. I really liked that about The Avalanches first record where you had no idea where they were taking you but it was beautiful. We wanted to use the samples not so much melodically but to back things up and make it feel like it’s shifting into another stage of the track.

How do you navigate a broadcast environment that seems like it's being shaken pretty dramatically by platforms like Spotify. Do you feel pressure to be constantly releasing singles in order to stay on top of the algorithm?

Jack McEwan: For me, I don’t really think about that, but I know our manager is feeling the pinch of the new way of releasing music. If I had it my way, we wouldn’t release singles. We’d just release the album, and you’d have that one experience. It’s like – you don’t release a film in ten minute chunks, it spoils the experience.

What I’d love to do is release singles that are just B-sides – here’s the flavor of what we’re doing, here’s the record. It would be so much more enjoyable for an album listen.

It’s dangerous because tracks are becoming shorter, people’s attention spans are becoming shorter. I think the art of an album – apart from people who listen to records and get excited for it – it’s slowly dying. I mean, it’s always been like this though. Radio was two minutes, verse-chorus-verse-chorus. In the 90s it became amazing, everything opened up. Music videos became like twelve minutes long. Now it’s gone back into this weird meme world.

There’s still people doing great records, and I think we are definitely in the best part of where music’s ever been. There’s so many bands I’m still finding, it’s unreal.

We’re kind of lucky though. Ten years ago psych rock was the underground. The reason we started it was because it was like, “let’s fuck the mainstream and make this kind of music!” Then all of a sudden everyone started really liking psyche rock. Tame Impala are headlining festivals worldwide! We’re just trying to be as fun as possible.

Psychedelic Porn Crumpets © Tristan McKenzie
Psychedelic Porn Crumpets © Tristan McKenzie

What’s the state of live music in Australia right now? You’ve had relative success with COVID, yeah?

Jack McEwan: In Perth we’re still at half capacity venues. That’s way better to be honest. So, bands that normally play 200 cap rooms are moved up to 400, 400 to 800. You’re gonna see the bands that you generally like, but in a bigger room, there’s no line for the bar, no one’s gonna spill a pint down your back because you’re all crammed in.

People have been really creative with where the gigs are. The other weekend I went to this punk gig on a boat and it was this old Mississippi steamboat with the big wheels on the sides going up and down Swan River. I didn’t even know Perth had a steamboat! They were one of the heaviest bands I’ve ever seen. We were lucky no one died or went over the edge. There was so much of that – what do they do…

Moshing?

Jack McEwan: Yeah, everyone was just fucking, “raaahh!”

It was interesting. Hopefully the borders open up soon to go over East, but I think we’re still probably a couple of months away from where that might become a reality. If we can just keep doing Perth, it feels good to be playing live.

We haven’t had community transmissions for something silly, like 7 months. I feel like a dickhead for talking about it!

A few of your music videos have been claymation, including “Mr. Prism” and “Tally-ho.” Can you talk about how these projects came about for a bit? From what I gather the animator was Oliver Jones, who also did the animation for “Hymn For a Droid.”

Jack McEwan: Yeah, he did “Bill’s Mandolin” and “Keen for Kicks Ons” as well. We felt the album was gonna be more of a theme or concept, so we wanted to theme the music videos together as well. So we thought, let’s do a trilogy. We knew what the singles we wanted to release were.

So there was this Simpsons intro claymation where Jimbo Jones and a bunch of bullies come in and hack the Simpsons up and it’s fucking gruesome, it’s so gory. But it’s all claymation so it’s hilarious. It added this flavor to claymation. I loved the fact that it went that way and made you feel, “what the fuck?”

I think all the songs we’re doing have these lackadaisical, pop-sense hooks, and then the vocals are a bit more dark. So giving that underlying dark tone to the music videos felt like a good way to approach it.

Ollie just went, hold my beer, I know how to write this trilogy. I think all I said is that in the first one, I want this Alice character to eat some Willy Wonka type guy. He’s just completely run with it, and it’s amazing what he’s done in such a short amount of time. I think Wallace and Gromit took like four years to make one of those movies. Ollie’s just whipping out music videos every couple of months.

The end part is T-Bone, this bounty hunter character, trying to take the Alice character down in Sweetsville. And with COVID adding this extra element of this trilogy to the album was awesome. So, we’ll see what he comes up with for the third one. Once you’ve used the gore I don’t think you can use it again, because it loses its shock value.

I feel like a lot of your songs have these whimsical ‘characters’ in them, in a sense that reminds me a lot of The Beatles and particularly Sgt. Pepper’s. Is this something you intentionally write into songs, or is it just something that emerges out of the process of writing a good psychedelic rocker?

Jack McEwan: I dunno! I never really think too much about the characters, but as I’m writing a song I want it to feel like me having a conversation. Adding like a Mister in front of something just to make it feel like a person rather than a feeling or an object. It’s definitely a Beatles nod – Dr. Robert, Sgt. Pepper, Maxwell and his silver hammer. They created a visual identity for the music without even having these characters in play, but you got a picture of what they looked like. It feels like that Willy Wonka world.

With Porn Crumpets we wanted to add a visual element to what’s going on. This time around there were actually a bunch of non-fictional characters. There was Alexander Flemming, “thank you Alexander Fleming, who invented penicillin. There was a guy in “Hats Off To The Green Bins” who was Edwin Beard Budding, who invented the lawnmower. He’s this Lord with this big long white beard and a tophat and we’re just, “hats off to you, sir!”

We were just looking at the lyrics and trying to introduce that visual element through our experiences, but also just to be quirky.

There’s a sense of, I dunno, ‘carpe diem,’ ‘yolo’ on your albums in a way that I really enjoy but might not be the most palatable to some. It’s almost like a celebration of laziness, like on “Ergophobia,” and on SHYGA! you give us “Gurney Gridman.” That has the line “Live life while you’re young, enjoy every day.” What kind of experiences have led to this ethos in your music?

Jack McEwan: Well “Ergophobia” was just about working on a building site, we must have almost died three or four times. We were piling, literally drilling in anchors forty meters down in this big pit, and rocks were falling down off of these excavators. So we went, “fuck this, I’m quitting” and wrote that song.

And again in “Gurdman” I remember sitting in a pub in England – it’s almost in there as a joke, but every time you go in there there’s some old bloke that’ll come up to you and put his arm around you like, “mate, you gotta live while your young!” I put it in this way that’s almost tongue in cheek, but it’s something that actually happened.

I can’t write fiction – I mean, I can, but if I’ve gotta sing this for the rest of my life, I’m not going to lie about something. For us, we get a kick out of the absurdities in life, like on “Found God in a Tomato.” Australia has this big carefree living anyway. You literally don’t have to do anything if you don’t want to. You could just go down south, live on a beach, and come back up covered in salt crystals, algae and seaweed four years later, and no one would bat an eyelid.

We just thrive on that carefree existence. We’ll probably grow out of it, but in the meantime it’s who we are. It’s nice to take the piss out of ourselves.

Isn’t life strange, how
It starts to make sense?
You work it all out
And then you get old and forget
If there was a reason
If there’s still time
Every old man tells me the same
Live while you’re young
Enjoy each day
Look after your neighbors
And they’ll look out for you
Don’t wait for the world to spin, it’s not waiting ’round for anyone
There’s no finish line, ticket sign or button to start it all again
Every old man tells me the same
Live while you’re young
Enjoy each day

Is there a darker side to those feelings of wanting to enjoy life? Some of the lyrics on your albums seem to point to very down and out people turning to alcohol to get some enjoyment out of life.

Jack McEwan: I think it’s more that that’s part on tour. Not so much when we’re on tour – I don’t even smoke weed. I can do acid or mushrooms anymore, I just can’t. But when you’re on tour, you have a weird carefree attitude towards it. It’s almost like a stint in war – alright, you’re deployed, it’ll be four months, go!

So you have this weird sense of living, out of your comfort zone, with a good group of friends that sometimes you hate. There’s never a sense of being by yourself. You can be alone, and you can’t get an escape. The cycle is like, soundcheck, get drunk, drive hungover. The only time you have off is that time after you’ve finished the gig at 12:30AM to literally six until you have to go to bed. So it’s weird – I wanted to touch base on that in the lyrics.

Not so much when we’re home. We fit into society better when we’re at home and have a house.

It’s a bad contiki tour, that’s what it is.

You’re pretty candid about your experiences with psychedelics, and SHYGA! just bleeds psychedelia. I don’t want to pigeonhole you in that way, but do you mind talking about some particularly stark psychedelic moments that inspired sounds on SHYGA!?

Jack McEwan: I sort of stuck to alcohol on SHYGA! A lot of the songs are about drinking, and the drugs are more so the chemical enthusiasm of a pill or a line of coke. Maybe that’s why our music’s different now, cause I stopped taking acid [laughs], and all our fans are saying, “just take acid again!”

Do you have a favorite song on the album?

Jack McEwan: I always listen back to “Hats Off To The Green Bins.” I was listening to a bunch of Caribou at the time, and I think it was Andorra that had this song with a beautiful harmony overlaying these drums and all these chimes. So I wanted to write this song that had a Beatles-y hook with a Caribou kind of thing on top, where the Mellotron was lifting everything up.

There’s a really good version of that song without all the fucked up bits, and it sounds beautiful. When I was fucking it up I was like, “no, no!” Maybe I should release what it once was and people can see where it came from. I know Flying Lotus does that kind of thing.

Do you have any plans for the near future you’re allowed to tell me about?

Jack McEwan: I’m working on an album or two at the moment. I’ve got all these slow songs at the moment, but I’m wondering if I should release a slow song ever again. I dunno if it’ll be a Porn Crumpets thing. But then I’ve got this heavier group of songs that didn’t fit onto SHYGA! like the metal kind of bits in drop-b, and that kind of stuff is coming out at the end of this year. We’re moving quick.

Do you have anything you’d like to plug?

Jack McEwan: We’re coming out with a new vinyl coloration for America. The first one sold out quick. I wanted to do it like Vinyl Williams, how he’s got all this rainbow burst stuff which is insane. Trying to find a plant that’ll do that, so hopefully they can look pretty spectacular.

— —

SHYGA! The Sunlight Mound - Psychedelic Porn Crumpets

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