Clowns Talk Melbourne Dive Bars, Sexual Taboos and Downright Dickheads

‘Yeah, no dramas at all,’ says Clowns guitarist Jarrod Goon when I ask if he’s ready for a phone interview.

He’s at home in Melbourne, fresh off a three-week European tour, learning to play some of his band’s older and lesser-known songs. ‘It’s been quite a task, learning the entire back catalogue of Clowns’ music,’ he says. ‘It’s been pretty fun.’

The five-piece punk band are getting ready for a string of shows in Melbourne’s most beloved dive bars, where they’ll be playing each of their four albums in its entirety. Jarrod joined the band in 2015, shortly after they’d released their second album, Bad Blood, so there are songs that he’s never played before. The hometown shows are called ‘Keeping The Dive Alive’, in support of the city’s favourite little venues, including Old Bar, Bar Open, Last Chance, and The Espy Basement.

As far as Australian punk bands go, Clowns are about as successful as they come. They’ve been a band for nine years and managed to tour Europe six times. Bad Blood was voted best heavy release for that year by listeners of triple j’s Short.Fast.Loud. They’re still DIY to the core, running their own touring agency and record label, Damaged, through which they’ve released their fourth album, Nature/Nurture. Internationally, the record has been released through the iconic punk label Fat Wreck Chords.

With the new album and a string of hometown shows, it seemed a good time to have a chat to Jarrod about sexual taboos, dickheads in bands and the importance of supporting small music venues.

Hey Jarrod, so tell me about the ‘Keeping The Dive Alive’ shows. I think the first time I saw you guys was a packed show at Old Bar, years ago.

From a personal perspective, I started off my relationship with Clowns as a fan. I remember seeing Clowns play 10 or 15 times at the Espy Basement around the time of the first album. I’ve still got the first Clowns t-shirt I ever bought which was drawn by the bass player at the time. So this is so weird for me, to be able to play the Espy Basement with these guys when I started off as a fan seeing them there. I finally get to play that venue with them, so that’s so cool on a personal level.

And obviously there’s also a focus on the venues themselves – these shows are about supporting Melbourne’s favourite dive bars?

Yeah, for all these venues that have been a really big part in the beginning of Clowns, it’s important to support them. We’ve heard that the smaller bars have been struggling a bit and the attendances are down at shows. It could be because it’s the middle of winter, it could be a string of things but it’s pretty important to support these venues. When we’re in Europe or anywhere, people talk about how good Melbourne is and how good the music scene is and it’s because of bars like Old Bar or Last Chance or Bar Open or whoever, that that whole thing exists. We’re really lucky in Melbourne and I don’t think we should be taking it for granted.

When I saw your post about how these bars need some help, I was surprised. I lived in Melbourne for three years and the music scene always seemed to be thriving compared to anywhere else I’ve been in Australia. I thought these small bars were such institutions.

I remember last year I was at a gig in Frankfurt in Germany in this tiny little world war two bunker and this guy walks up to me and says “Hey” and he’s wearing an Old Bar t-shirt. I’m like, ‘What the fuck?’ People know about these bars; they’re famous. People will literally come to Melbourne to go to Old Bar. It’s such an important venue. And it’s one of those places where, if the walls could talk, you’d love to know some of their stories. I think they need our support now; it can be as simple as buying a beer at the bar and attending a show.  I mean, we’re definitely not the solution but we just want to be some part of helping things go along.

I listened to your new album this morning and got interested in the song, ‘I Shaved My Legs For You’. It has an S&M vibe. What’s the story behind that song?

It touches on subjects that can be seen as taboo. The message of the song is that you can do whatever you want to do with a consenting adult in the bedroom and as long as it’s not hurting anyone and it’s all consenting then people shouldn’t feel bad about it. People shouldn’t shame other people about what they’re into. If you want to shave your legs or if you don’t want to shave your legs, whatever, you do whatever you want. My favourite line in that song is that you can blur the lines of morals but just don’t blur the lines of respect. That’s sort of the point of the entire song really, that people can do these things and if you’re doing it respectfully then it’s fine.

And then ‘Prick’ was another good song. I guess it’s about when you meet some cool guy in a band and he turns out to be a prick?

Yeah, that’s pretty much it. Without going into detail of people or person, sometimes you can be on tour and you meet a band and you idolise that band or that person and you go and meet them and they end up doing some shitty things and you go, ‘Fuck, I thought that guy was going to be awesome.’ And it turns out they’re a dickhead. I swear there’s plenty of them. From extensive touring and playing with all sorts of different bands from all sorts of places, you discover that a lot of people, no matter what their name is and who they are, they can be downright dickheads. It’s quite an angry song, it’s a nice little release playing that song.

I noticed that on the Damaged website it says the song is actually about you?

[Laughs] Yeah, that was the kind work of our singer Stevie, he makes a point in interviews and press releases of saying something funny about me, but he also makes a point of not showering on tour so he smells pretty bad.

Photo by Ian Laidlaw

Internationally, you’ve released your album through Fat Wreck Chords. I think Frenzal Rhomb are the only other Aussie band to be signed with the infamous record label, which was started by Fat Mike of NOFX.

Yeah, that’s right. We love stealing Frenzal’s thunder as often as possible and their rider when we play shows with them. So it was a nice little thing to happen—we could be the only other Australian band to be signed to Fat Wreck. It’s been great. We’ve become friends with a lot of Fat bands over the years and we played a show with NOFX in Germany so when it came to this album, we sent it across and it all worked. So we’re looking forward to our first tour of the US this year.

You guys have done a lot for a punk bandtouring Europe six times and then coming back to Melbourne and playing all your albums in their entiretyI feel like it doesn’t get much bigger than that for a contemporary Aussie punk band. Does that ever trip you out?

I think it’s put down to hard work really—especially the original guys that worked from the beginning. I’ve learnt along the way that there’s no sleeping, there’s no resting. At the moment we’re on the touring cycle of our new record so we’re just keeping flat out busy. We’re going back to Europe later this year as well. So we’re looking into the future, months ahead of time, I think that’s important if you want some success and keep building up shows and playing bigger venues and whatnot.

Sometimes we’ll be playing some big festival in Slovenia or something and we’re like, ‘Holy shit, this is weird, when did this happen?’ but often we’ll find ourselves going, Oh yeah, it was the million emails and late nights and practising three nights a week before recording our album. And staying in the studio until 4 am—all that stuff.

Sign up for the Monster Children Newsletter