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INTERVIEW – Fox Trotsky, Nancy Vandal – October 2013

| 19 October 2013 | Reply

Interview – Fox Trotsky, Nancy Vandal – October 2013
By Shane Pinnegar

It may be a silly question to kick things off with, but as Frank Zappa once asked, Does humour belong in Music?

Nancy Vandal’s Fox Trotsky doesn’t hesitate for a moment before answering enthusiastically.

Nancy Vandal Fox Trotsky 02

“Well, that’s not the first time someone’s asked that to me, not surprisingly,” he laughs, “and my answer is of course YES! It’s 50% of it to me, or more! I think most of the music I listen to, and obviously the stuff that I write, has a big humour component. I kind’ve find music inherently funny anyway – even when it’s not supposed to be funny. So yeah, I think it belongs and it is there, everywhere.”

The danger with comedy – especially dick-bum-fart gags – is that it’ll detract from whatever serious message may also lie in the music. If you’re trying to get a serious message across in a satirical song, but people just listen to it for the obvious comedy, does that become frustrating at all?

“No, no. I mean, people can take it which ever way they like, really.” He explains, “But I’d prefer that they had a laugh and if they get any deeper meaning from it than that then good luck to them, I say! It’s almost like – I almost think about the music creating a good first impression, and if it makes someone laugh, then that’s a good first impression, then you can go from there.”

Nancy Vandal assaulted the Australian punk rock scene like a diabetic with homicidal sugar cravings, releasing 5 albums and 2 EPs between 1995 and 2000, before disbanding until 2009 apart from a few gigs in 2003. What happened to get the troops all motivated again?

“Well, it was twenty years since we started,” laughs Trotsky, who lives an alternate life as reknowned comic book artist Mike Foxall, “so we thought we should do something for the 20th anniversary ‘cos we started in 1993. And I thought I’d hate to do something half arsed – we should go all in, so we decided to do an album, and organised a little tour around that, then the Soundwave thing honestly came out of absolutely nowhere, so that was completely unplanned but has just given it a life of it’s own really.”

Nancy Vandal 04

All in is right. The album is called Flogging A Dead Phoenix and features heaps of Trotsky/Foxall’s artwork, there’s a version of it that comes with a complete comic book fanzine, a new interactive website, and – as just mentioned – a slot on 2014’s Soundwave Festival. Nancy Vandal have pretty much gone from zero to 150 in one step!

“Yeah – it’s almost like we’re over-compensating!” Trotsky laughs, “I like all that stuff – I’m a nerd for bands that I like, and I love all the extra little tidbits that they do, so I always try to go hard to do as much of that stuff as I can for [bands] like Nancy Vandal. And the people who like Nancy Vandal do seem to like that sort of stuff, so I’m willing to please them!”

The album was partially funded through a Pozible crowd funding campaign. How confident were the band that the campaign would be successful?

“Uuuuum…” he pauses, initially hesitant before warming to the idea. “Not overly confident. Because [crowd funding] is a pretty new thing across the board and new to us as well. I was reasonably confident, because I knew there was still interest through the Facebook page and people were still out there who dug the band, Yeah we were reasonably confident, I guess – we weren’t asking for a huge amount either, just enough to cover a few recording costs. I love the system, and I’m really into the crowd sourcing model, it’s perfect for a band like us – a smaller band who still have people who are interested, so you don’t have to go through third parties to finance the record and fanzine stuff, we can directly target the people who want it, and give them something of good value too, I reckon that’s the key, certainly at our level.”

With it’s DIY put-it-in-the-hands-of-the-fans ethos, crowd funding is also a very PUNK ideal too.

“Yeah – I’ve said that a few times,” he agrees. “It’s a modern DIY kind of model, just with a few extra little computery bits attached to it! But the end result is, we’ve been screen printing posters and signing CDs and doing some bits of artwork here and there – it’s all like a little cottage industry at Nancy Vandal HQ, which it always was back in the day too – we were always doing little newsletters and posting stuff out like that, pre-internet. We’ve always had that DIY, home made aesthetic to the band, so it’s just an extension… it helps sort of pay back.”

Nancy Vandal 01

A scan down the Flogging A Dead Phoenix track list reveals titles such as Hot Pants Nation, King King Bundy’s Ponzi Scheme, Desmond Manchild and We Fucked This City On Rock n’ Roll – Britney Spears this ain’t. Is it all fun and games in the studio or is there a serious side to making funny music?

“That’s a good question!” Trotsky exclaims with a laugh.”There is a bit of… you want it to be good, so it’s not like we would do any old thing. We have to think seriously about what we’ll do beforehand, but when we’re recording it it’s pretty much fun and we realise we’re not recording Chinese Democracy or something like that! It’s pretty cheap: get in, get out. But we have certain little things – like, themes, that we want to include, to make sure everything has got all the energy and raucous[ness], so we keep reminding ourselves of that, but apart from that it’s pretty fun!”

Jason Beers – aka Jay Whalley – was bassist/vocalist briefly, way back in 1996, before he left to lead Frenzal Rhomb to much dirtbag acclaim, and the band drafted him in to produce Flogging A Dead Phoenix before sticking a microphone in front of him for a couple of tracks.

“We thought we’d throw him a bone, the poor bloke,” laughs Trotsky, light-heartedly. “What else has he got going for him these days? Frenzal Rhomb are a bit quiet at the moment, so we thought we’d make his day and get him involved. He was supposed to be just producing, then he ended up singing on a couple of songs, which was overstepping the mark a bit! But again, what can you say when you’re in the recording studio, and he looks up with his little puppy dog eyes asking if he can sing a song – you’ve gotta let him!”

Flogging… is a very punk album, but it’s also a very Australian album. Whereas some bands go out of their way to sing in a generic, accent-less way, Nancy Vandal sound Aussie through and through, the album dripping with our distinctive vernacular, accents, and trademark piss-taker’s sense of humour.

“I’m really glad that you said that,” admires Trotsky, “I wouldn’t say we strived [for that] but I am always very conscious… actually speaking of Jay, this is something I got from him a long time ago. I love the way that he sings in a really distinctive Australian accent. I don’t know if that’s what you’re talking about or if that just helps with forming that feel, but definitely, that’s a conscious effort on our behalf. The influences are pretty varied, but it is basically fast pub rock, which is an Australian thing.”

Nancy Vandal 03

The band posted many studio updates and videos throughout the Pozible campaign – another feature of the crowd funding model which brings the audience a little closer to an artist’s inner circle. In one, sax player Gilli Pepper admitted dourly that to keep her focussed in the studio, the band kept her hungry and sober – given the playful vibe of the record, we can assume that tactic worked.

“Ahhh, yeah – it did,” the guitarist/singer laughs. “Though I reckon she broke both rules a couple of times! But we eventually did get her to the required anger levels, maybe there were other things that were pissing her off – at the time she wasn’t too comfortable! You’ve gotta keep everyone angry and hungry!”

Nancy Vandal originally formed in 1993 at Sydney’s Warrane College, calling themselves Hard Axe To Follow, before changing the name to Mr Pennywise, Nancy Vandal & The Popgun Assassins, and finally just Nancy Vandal.

“Our original bass player [Marcus Rolfe] before Jay,” Trotsky explains, taking up the story, “and myself and JJ [LaMoore, guitarist] went to uni together back in the early nineties. So we kinda got together and had all these pretend bands that we would [create] – we were just learning to play instruments at this stage – we’d design album covers and stuff before we’d even learnt a song! So we went about it all arse backwards really. We did that for a little while, then eventually we put an ad in Drum for a drummer, and that’s when Dean [Bakota, who has also gone under the pseudonyms Bombshell, Tommy Lee Turnip, Mr. Shit and So Cal Snuffel] came on board, pretty much off the boat from Croatia. And in the very early nineties we were starting to play in that very early punk scene there, and it all exploded from there.”

Trotsky stifles a laugh. “Well, I say ‘exploded’… like a really, really small firecracker!”

Trotsky says the invitation to hook themselves up to the enorma-show Soundwave juggernaut was as big a surprise to the band as anyone.

“We still can’t quite believe that it’s happened! And we can go to Perth – with our [own] tour, it was just logistically and cost wise impossible – we couldn’t get to Adelaide either. But thanks to Soundwave we’re getting to both those places! I thought that our stadium days were behind us, but it’ll be fun. Back in the late nineties we played a lot of them – Homebake and Livid and stuff like that. But there’s always a close little group, so we kind of got a little blasé about it. But now, with the ten years intervening gap, I think we can get a bit more enthusiastic about this! It’s not like there’s going to be a line-up of festival dates straight after this, so I think we’re all really psyched.”

The excitement hasn’t extended as far as actually planning a stage show yet, though.

“We’re yet to work out what the hell we’re gonna do on stage!” he laughs, “we haven’t done it for a while, so… we should work it out, shouldn’t we!”

In addition to Nancy Vandal, Trotsky/Foxall’s artwork has recently graced the cover and videos of bands such as minor metal/punk supergroup The Neptune Power Federation, and his website is full of amazing work. 100% ROCK MAG couldn’t let the opportunity go without asking about his artistic influences.

“For me, music and art go together, like, massively.” He explains. “All of the bands that I ever liked had an artistic element to them – big bands like KISS, to underground bands like The Hard-Ons. They all had a graphic element to them that went along with the music, so it always goes hand in hand for me. Almost everything I do art wise has a musical element to it, or imagery that is covered in rock music or heavy metal music and stuff, so yeah, they just make a good marriage in my opinion.”

Nancy Vandal 02
There’s a lot of similarity between Nancy Vandal and The Hard-Ons both musically and artistically, and how they tie in together, especially what the latter band were doing back in the mid eighties.

“Well I take that as a massive compliment,” he says proudly, “I mean, I just love Ray’s [Hard-Ons bassist Ray Ahn] art, and I love the music as well, and I just love how they kind’ve tied the two together. You can’t look at one or hear the other without thinking of the other part of it, I reckon. And also, because they’re so distinct to what you said before, they’re a very Australian band – they don’t necessarily sound like anything else, just very Australian and individual and original and not pretentious. There’s a lot to like about The Hard-Ons across the board, I reckon.”

100% ROCK MAG couldn’t agree more. To this day we can’t listen to early Hard-Ons tracks like Girl In The Sweater or Surfin’ On Your Face without visualising the artwork that graced those 7” single sleeves, just as listening to KISS’s Calling Dr Love instantly brings to mind their iconic (and much-parodied, including by The Hard-Ons) Rock n’ Roll Over album cover. Trotsky is obviously in thrall to those days and doing his damnedest to evoke a similar feeling with Nancy Vandal, which is so important and bold in these days where kids download one song from a record to listen to a couple of times before discarding.

To wrap up, we ask Trotsky the Sixty Four Thousand Dollar Question. If he could magically go back in time and be a part of the recording of any one record in history, which would he choose?

“Ah, that’s easy for me,” he says without hesitation, “it’s Slade Alive.”

Awesome choice!

“Recorded with their fan club in a studio somewhere,” he says wistfully, “I wish I could be in that fan club!”


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Category: Interviews

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Editor, 100% ROCK MAGAZINE

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