Photos by Nat Kassel
Bec Callander climbs from the stage of the Oxford Arts Factory onto the top of a nearby speaker, singing the chorus of ‘Kiss It Better’.
Between verses, Callander bobs down to the front row and begins leaning in and kissing people on the mouth. The crowd seems impressed by the risqué spectacle of artist-audience participation, if a little bit nervous. People at the front seem suddenly more attentive; some of them probably hoping that Callander might suddenly lean in and lock lips with them.
“If I’ve written a song called ‘Kiss It Better’ and it’s about sexual expression then I’m going to stay true to the story of the song,” Callander explains when I ask about kissing random members of the audience. “It’s all about engaging with people and making them feel something.”
Callander is the frontwoman of Rackett, a four-piece, all-female pop-rock band who have developed a solid rep for playing shows that are captivating, a bit wild and yet still super tight. Their sound is self-described “riot pop”, which is to say that it’s a brand of rock and roll that’s poppy, quite technical and draws influences from all over the place. On stage, Callander makes full eye-contact with members of the audience and holds it, communicating that for the 45-minutes they’re on stage, Rackett are really giving us everything.
By Tuesday afternoon, when I get the chance to chat to Callander, she’s exhausted from a three-gig weekend followed by a couple of shifts as a disability care worker, and then some band admin and PR. Rackett have certainly made waves in the Australian music scene but they still do everything DIY and are yet to be signed to a major label. As Callander puts it, “We’re somewhere between the nine-to-five and that fantasy lifestyle that we dream of.”
As she explains what it’s like to be a disability care worker, I realise that her two roles couldn’t be any more different. Being the frontwoman of Rackett requires confidence, charisma and musical talent, amongst other things. Working in disability care requires selflessness, empathy and physical labour. “It is a grounding job to have,” she says. “There’s nothing like playing a show to a big crowd and then waking up at 8 am and wiping someone’s arse… it takes you back to planet earth pretty quickly.”
Seeing Callander on stage, it’s hard to imagine her double life. Performing looks utterly natural for her, probably because she grew up doing musical theatre, playing in the school band and at country music musters in her hometown of Bundaberg in Queensland. She initially moved to Sydney to study acting at NIDA, which she pursued “pretty intensely” for a time, but it was during a long solo road trip down the east coast that she decided to change course and start making music.
“As a failed actress, I was selling handbags out of the back of a station wagon, driving from Jarvis Bay all the way through to Port Macquarie,” she explains. “Having long periods of time in the car by myself, I would listen to different albums and the radio and when I’d get sick of that I would start creating my own little melodies and lyrics and these songs.”
The songs evolved from voice memos into GarageBand recordings, some eventually being recorded with bands she’s played with along the way. But Rackett was very much a premeditated project; it’s basically the band that Callander wanted to see but hadn’t yet. She says she formed Rackett partly as a response to the lack of women represented in the music scene and partly out of a personal desire to have a crew of likeminded women to make music with.
“I just felt like there weren’t any female groups in the music realm that represented my expression—and that was delivering an amazing and memorable guitar solo,” says Callander. “I started auditioning for Rackett and that took quite a few years to find solid female players and then finally, it happened.”
Callander says that one of the reasons for having an all-female band is that she’s able to express herself in ways that she can’t necessarily express herself with men. She describes Rackett as a girl gang and an energy source that just happened to align with a music scene that was lacking female bands. “So maybe I created Rackett for myself or maybe I created Rackett for other people. I’m still exploring what my motives are,” she says.
We talk about gender politics, the feminist appeal of Rackett and sexism in the music industry. Callander admits to having “flexed my own promiscuous side to get things that I want” and to objectifying certain men in the past, but she seems to play down the challenges she’s faced due to her gender, before noting that, “it’s a very complex discussion”. Overall, she seems optimistic and ambitious, summarising, “I’m all for treating people how you want to be treated, male or female, and an all-inclusive rise of humanity and compassion for everyone.”
At some point, we get onto the time Callander had her head shaved while performing on stage, which made for some pretty wild footage. “That to me was a personal challenge,” she says. “Having that Barbie doll identity, I was ready to move on and find new challenges; I was ready to see how people would react to me and see how I would react to myself.”
“When you deform yourself in some way, it feels uncomfortable, and through that discomfort you kind of grow and become stronger, so that was the point of that,” she continues. “And I guess doing it on stage, I was like, ‘Well, fuck it. Maybe I’ll inspire other people to do something to break their identity and create something new within themselves.’”
Callander’s on-stage head shave seems an apt symbol for Rackett’s vibe more broadly: at first glance it’s pure entertainment, but if you look a little deeper, they’re challenging themselves and working things out as they go. It’s a process of exploration, whether that’s the feeling of being a victim, as in their most popular song ‘Prey’, or the nature of addiction, as in their new single, ‘Tried to Quit’.
For listeners who are looking for a message or a meaning, there’s plenty to discover. But for those who just want to see a raging live show and hear a mad guitar solo, Rackett are also here to entertain.