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INTERVIEW: JOSIE O’TOOLE, Tequila Mockingbyrd – July 2016

| 27 July 2016 | Reply

INTERVIEW: JOSIE O’TOOLE, Tequila Mockingbyrd – July 2016
By Shane Pinnegar

Melbourne trio Tequila Mockingbyrd have been making huge leaps forwards in 2016, with a blistering debut album of powerhouse melodic rock n’ roll, tour dates right around the country, and just announced not only a tour of Europe – but an indefinite move there to further the bands career. SHANE PINNEGAR got drummer Josie O’Toole on the phone to get the full story – and that we did, in a blur of enthusiasm and excitement.

Jess, Estelle and Josie

Jess, Estelle and Josie

Tequila Mockingbyrd – West Australian Tour 2016

Friday, 29 July – Indi Bar, Scarborough with Legs Electric and Dirtwater Bloom
Saturday, 30 July – Prince Of Wales Hotel, Bunbury with Crash Rat, Shots Fired and Silent Deeds

To say it’s been a busy year for Josie O’Toole and bandmates Jess Reily and Estelle Artios (bass and drums, respectively) is a massive understatement. Fight And Flight, the bands debut album, has been released to fantastic reviews; the trio played to Australian troops in the Middle East; they released a couple of self-made video clips; tour Australia; locked in a huge tour of Europe with fellow Aussies Massive and Black Aces; and finally committed to move the band there indefinitely.

“It’s been a very hectic few weeks – we’re mid-tour at the moment, so it’s the old, ‘juggle the full-time job while doing three gigs a week, with filming the video clip on our one day off,’ kind of thing!” Josie explains when I ask how things are going.

“We’ve just got not-many-weekends left, really, before we go, so we’re just trying to get everything done that needs to get done. I’ve moved house as well, which hasn’t helped!”

Tequila Mockingbyrd 02

Tequila Mockingbyrd formed in 2012, releasing their solidly entertaining debut EP, T-Byrds Are Go, in 2014. Fast forward two years and it looks like things got a lot more serious in the past six months.

“Well, you say six or so months,” O’Toole counters, “But it was actually probably about 18 months ago that we all sat down and thought, ‘what do we want from this? Is this a hobby band and are we happy just playing at local pubs every other Saturday or whatever for the rest of our lives?’ We had just got some really good feedback from early gigs. Some people said to us, ‘if you want to take this all the way, if you work hard at it, there’s no reason why you can’t.’

“We had a few people say that to us and by the time the third or fourth person had said it to us, I think we kind of… we have a band ‘parma’ meeting every now and again and we just catch up and have food and talk about shit. It was at one of those, we were like, ‘what DO we want from it?’ I think we all just agreed that we wanted to give it the best shot we possibly could. From that moment onward, our attitude towards it changed a bit and it was a bit less about trying to slot in gigs between people going on holiday, and save to do recordings between people buying other things with their money, to a bit more of a focus on what does the band need to do next, and how do we adjust our lives to make sure that we can do what the band needs to do next – that kind of a thing.

“We were very lucky to have some wise words from a few people who knew what they were talking about – because we definitely didn’t!” O’Toole continues plainly. “We had the offer about two years ago to record our debut album – some guys were going to do it for us for free at the place where we rehearsed at the time. They offered to record it for us for FREE! We were all like, ‘shit yeah! We’ll do it, for sure. A free album? Happy days.’

“Then, we ended up talking to someone who was like, ‘seriously? These songs are your babies. You get one shot at releasing your debut album. No offense, but no-one knows who you are right now. Do you really want to go out and waste all your songs on a recording where someone’s doing it for you for a favour to you, but no control over how the end product comes out? Do you really think the timing’s right?’

“Then, we had a think about it and were like, ‘hmm, good point.’ We decided not to take up the free recording offer and instead saved our own money and recorded [the T-Birds Are Go] EP to get things cranking. That was the beginning of it all: the EP was well-received, and then we built on it.”

O’Toole may think that they had no idea what to do, but following that piece of advice was a wise choice indeed. Two years later they are in a far more solid place than they might have ended up, and have a sterling debut album to show off proudly.

“100% right,” she concurs. “People, at the end of the day, who’ve never heard you, that recording is all they’re going to know of you. You can have all the pictures and fancy whatevers going on in your social [media] but they listen to your music. If it sounds like it’s recorded in a bathtub or whatever, you know, that’s all they’ve got to base their opinion of your band on. You want to go out with your best foot forward. I think we just changed our attitude from, ‘oh, awesome, it’s free,’ to, ‘actually, if we really care about this, then that $1,000 we were going to spend on this or that, we need put that $1,000 into the band account to pay to do an EP properly and see what happens.’”

Tequila Mockingbyrd - Fight or Flight

The result is Fight And Flight, which I declared “possibly the best Australian debut album since Baby Animals.’” All the other reviews I have seen have been unanimously glowing. It must feel like waiting the extra year or two was worth it.

“Yeah! We’re, in hindsight, so glad we did that,” O’Toole breathes a sigh of relief. “It’s funny because it’s not even out overseas yet, just because of some stuff. You know, sometimes things just happen for a reason. It was meant to be released the same day that it got released here, but we had to change PR companies over there for various reasons, and that ended up pushing back the release date. We were going to release it in July but then we’ve got some labels talking to us now so we’ve delayed it again to see what comes of those conversations.

“We’re really glad we waited over here to have done the rounds a few times here and at least have a bit of a following over here. Again, in the UK, maybe we were jumping the gun a bit by [wanting to] put it out before we’d even been over there. Now fate’s intervened, so at least we’ll get a chance to do a couple of shows over there, probably before it’s even out, [and] hopefully get the best possible chance of getting it to as many people as possible.

“Yeah, we’ve been absolutely blown away by the response,” she admits. “I haven’t seen a bad review yet – I’m sure one will come, but we are staggered by how much people like it. Half of those songs we’ve been playing for probably two years, so we’re kind of, not sick of them, but we’re like, oh, they’re not that good. We’re just thinking about the next album. We’re like, oh, we can do better than that! It’s very encouraging that people are digging it and enjoying it.”

When it was all done and you listened to it in playback, you must have known you had something pretty damn good.

“Yeah. Ricky Ray is an absolute genius at what he does,” she says, generously. “I could not recommend him enough in terms of how he works with bands. It’s not just about the sound he gets, it’s also about the suggestions he makes that are not things that are going to completely change your song. Just those extra one percenters here and there that take a song from good to that next level. Also the way he talks to people just makes you want to listen to him, and you’re happy to take his feedback on board. He’s just a lovely guy to work with. I loved working with him because he’s a drummer, so it was really handy to be recorded by a drummer and have his little inputs and takes on things.

“At the time, we were like, well, we fucking love what he’s done with it. We finished recording that album in probably July last year. Again, we were sat on it for a long time really before it even came out. You forget, by the time it comes out, that initial feeling that we had as well, which is amazing. We got used to the songs. We were surprised when other people had the same feeling about it because for us it was just because it was our babies and we heard them recorded for the first time. People have been seeming to really dig it, so no complaints.”

Tequila Mockingbyrd 04

The trio first met at an audition for an all-girl covers band. Josie was helping the singer out on drums, even though she wasn’t going to be part of the resulting band, and Estelle and Jess tried out.

“I was just playing in a backpacker-style cover band,” Josie takes up the story. “The singer wanted to make an all-girl cover band, so she started auditioning. She didn’t want me in the band because my visa was about to expire, but she couldn’t find a drummer, so she asked me if I’d drum for the audition while she was auditioning these other people just because she couldn’t find anyone else. I said, ‘sure, yeah, no worries.’

“Off I went and we played some songs and it was Jess and Estelle auditioning at that audition. Obviously, we met and we had a bit of a jam and it was all cool. Off I went on my merry way. It turns out Jess and Estelle really bonded at that audition and they had really similar taste in music and ideas, and got on really well, so they decided they actually wanted to write originals together rather than be in this cover band. They went off and did their own thing and started writing some songs and stuff.

“Then, they decided they wanted to get out and play some gigs and they were looking for a drummer,” continues Josie with the Tequila Mockingbyrd history lesson. “Estelle was Facebook-stalking me and realised I was still in the country six months later because my company had sponsored me, so I didn’t have to go home. She shot me a message and sent me a couple of demos that her and Jess had been working on and I was like, ‘wow, fucking awesome!’ Yeah. We got together and jammed and the rest is history.”

Josie – who says the band are all mid-to-late twenties “ish”, but would prefer I write “mid-20’s” – may be from England originally, but that doesn’t mean it was an easy decision to leave friends, jobs and in the case of Jess and Estelle, family, behind to move to the other side of the world.

“Well, it was actually really quite strange, because it was not really something … It turns out it wasn’t really ever on the cards. We always had this thing which was, ‘how long can we keep doing this for,’ because we can’t keep doing what we’re doing at the pace we’re doing forever. We will burn out. We are working full-time jobs and then touring every weekend. Then, every night of the week we’re doing something, whether it’s designing a poster, booking a line-up, whatever it is. God forbid we want to rehearse sometime.

“We would always have this conversation which is, ‘how are we going to do this forever?’ We just always had this attitude [that] things fall into place and work themselves out. One of the questions we always asked was, ‘how are we going to know when it’s time to quit the jobs and take the plunge [to be a full-time musician]?’ Do you have to take that plunge before you’re even at a place where you can afford to? Obviously, being in a band is not a very profitable activity at all.

“So, slowly, things fell into place. We got offered a show over there in November – the first show we got offered was Hard Rock Hell.

“I’ve always wanted to go and tour over there with the band – it’s always been an absolute dream of mine. I remember when I finished uni, at my graduation, Tony Blair’s son went to my uni and Tony Blair was at the graduation. I was quite good friends with his son, and I used to play in the band with him. He introduced me to his dad, and Tony Blair’s like, ‘oh, you just graduated, well done – what’s next?’

“I said to him at that point in time, ‘I’m going to start a rock band and then tour the world!’ It’s always been something I wanted to do. It’s taken me 10 years to get to a point where we can do it, I’ve always been trying to get the girls over there and they’ve always wanted to do it, but just the timing’s never been right, or we’ve got stuff [going on] over here. We got offered that one show and we all were like, ‘yeah, fuck it – let’s do it.’

Aussie wrecking crew tour

“Then, we got offered a couple more shows. It got to the point where, if we were going to go over, we were going to have to quit our jobs anyway, just ‘cos we couldn’t get enough annual leave – we maxed out all of our annual leave on touring here. It was like, if we’re going to have to quit our jobs anyway to do the tour, we might as well book a one-way ticket and see what happens.

“So we started a PR campaign over there and we got more love over there in three days than we’ve got in three years over here. I hate to say it, you’ve got to go where the people are digging it. It’s so hard in Australia in terms of touring because, obviously, the distances are just absolutely epic.

“We love Australia and will always. Whatever happens, we’ll be back and we’ll always want to tour here but touring Australia and even breaking even when you’re a band trying to break is absolutely impossible. You have to work. We’re going to Perth this weekend and we’re spending $1,200 just on airfares. To put that in perspective, a ticket, the three of us between us spent $2,100 to go to England. $2,100 for our flights to England versus $1,200 to go to Perth.”

Tequila Mockingbyrd 05

It’s a problem that we in Western Australia are all too aware of.

“Unfortunately, it’s just a matter of logistics and a numbers game,” Josie continues gamely. “You’ve got such a small population in such a big area. You have to be a pretty big band, getting paid a lot to make it all stack up.

“Early indications over there are doing really good, so we figure we’ll just go over there and give it our best shot. If it doesn’t work out, home will always be here and the 9-5 will always be here. What’s to lose, really?”

Fight And Flight – and Tequila Mockingbyrd themselves – embody the spirit of rock and roll in all its raw and raucous glory, head-shaking, taking no prisoners, having a drink, having a laugh. That seems to be missing from a lot of music nowadays.

“Yeah! If you listen to what’s going on Triple J and stuff, it’s not really rock and roll,” agrees Josie. “It’s all much tamer and sometimes I can’t really tell where the line between what’s supposed to be rock and pop is these days. We just play the music we enjoy listening to: we play the way we play. We’re not trying to pander to a trend or try and write music that will impress certain people. We literally just play because we enjoy playing what we play. The fact that other people enjoy it is awesome. Even if they didn’t enjoy it, we’d still play it. We just probably wouldn’t play as many gigs.

“We wouldn’t ever change our style, because we’re pretty honest. We’re very bad liars! So this is what we sound like.”

This seems like the right moment to mention something that we read online – something about Josie’s songs always sounding like folky pirate sea shanties? Should we be anticipating her solo album?

“In another life, before Tequila Mockingbyrd, I was in a folk pirate duo,” she jokes, cackling with laughter. “All my songs that I write sound that way – if I’m bringing them to practice they sound like a sea shanty, then Estelle tears into them and turns them into a rock song!”

With such a down-to-earth attitude, it’s no surprise that the girls of Tequila Mockingbyrd are level headed and more sensible than some rockers we could name. Don’t let the Jagerbomb slamming video clips fool you: these are sensible girls with (until recently) real jobs and busy lives.

“To be honest, I’ll let you in on a secret, we are probably the most un-rock and roll band you will ever meet in your life,” Josie whispers conspiratorially. “We’re so rock and roll in some ways – to me, rock and roll is just doing what the fuck you want to do and not giving a shit about what other people might think about it.

“We’re not the band that’s propping up the bar, all three of us, ‘til 6am every night. We take it in turns to have our benders and we have our benders, but at the end of the day you can’t function if you live that life non-stop. We all work full-time. If you spend your weekends getting written off and playing gigs… we need to work to afford to support the band. We can’t burn the candle at both ends indefinitely.

“We’ll have a drink, don’t get me wrong. We’ll have a laugh. We have a great time doing what we do – but we’re definitely not stuck in the ’70s or ’80s or anything, getting up to all sorts all the time. We get up to our mischief, but you know… we filmed a video this weekend of us. I love my Jagerbombs – I’m not going to lie. We filmed the video this weekend and we were driving around the city filming it so we couldn’t get drunk. We were making Jagerbombs out of apple juice and Coca-Cola!

“I’m not afraid to admit that,” Josie says bluntly, “because I’d rather do that than drink-drive.

“We’re not the rock and roll stereotype, I don’t think, but we are in the way that we just do what we want and if anyone’s got a problem with it, they can go suck a dick.”

Tequila Mockingbyrd are the real thing: catch them on one of their last Australian shows for now. They may not be back for a while.

Help Tequila Mockingbyrd tour Europe through their Pozible campaign HERE

Tequila Mockingbyrd on Facebook

Official Website


Category: Interviews

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