Photo by James Adams

Mini Skirt: Hard Yakka and Social Commentary in Byron Bay

“I drink the same beer as him but I don’t think new Australians are second-class citizens,” yells Jacob Boylan from the stage of The Landsdowne.

His unmistakably Aussie accent is fierce and his three bandmates are an equally solid force of frantic noise and energy. This is Mini Skirt, the garage punk band who formed in Byron Bay and popped onto the radar about a year ago with their song ‘Dying Majority’. It’s raw and catchy and lyrically clever; a punk tune that criticises older Aussie blokes who still cling to racist ideas. “I don’t care if they grew up in a different time / They still manage to learn the names of every new player in the NRL / So old dogs can still learn new tricks,” Jacob yells.

The song has been played on triple j and earned Mini Skirt the top spot in the VB Hard Yards comp—a sort of ‘battle of the bands’ put on by the beer company in collaboration with FBi radio. A large part of the song’s success is that the lyrics summarise an ugly part of modern Australia with such clarity and conviction. When he wrote ‘Dying Majority’ (and most of the other tracks on their 2017 EP, 7) Jacob was working as a roofer in the Northern NSW regional city of Lismore.

“I ended up roofing for a year and a half out in Lismore in 50-degree heat in the middle of summer on black sheet roofing,” he says. “I’d written all of that stuff while I was working out there. It was crazy how much it influenced everything.”

Jacob was commuting 45-kilometres from Byron Bay to Lismore for a job that was “just shit and hot all the time”. And while the work was paying the bills, it also provided some insight and perspective on the social aspects of being a labourer in a largely white rural area.

“It’s easy to be uppity and PC about everything but when you’re hanging out with people that are just your everyday tradie dudes, they’re not bad people,” says Jacob. “They would say gnarly shit and you’d call them up on it and they’d be like, ‘Oh, ok.’ Like, try and learn a bit.”

Jacob’s lyrics are powerful and political in a way that is often pleasing to the inner-city left, but he insists that he doesn’t want to be polarising to those who fall outside that particular clique, like the people he worked alongside as a roofer. After winning the Hard Yards comp, Jacob did an interview with FBi Radio that made him question how the song was being perceived. He explains, “When I did their radio interview, the whole thing was about being PC and I was like, ‘Nah, you’re missing the point, I don’t want to be a social justice warrior, I’m just observing actual things that happen.’”

Mini Skirt’s newest song, released on a two-track LP called Hello Possums, is called ‘Fun Police’ and it’s a bit of a reaction to the whole experience, taking a subtle dig at the left. The lyrics contain nothing remotely right wing: Jacob laments having “no pride in the flag”, the lack of education about the British invasion of Australia and tasting “the stolen earth beneath my nails”. But the chorus—“Fuck me, I can be politically incorrect”—is the moment of jarring contrast. His point is that even people with decent intentions sometimes say the wrong thing and get pounced on.

“It’s a stab at myself as well,” says Jacob. “Because it’s like, ‘Oh fuck, sorry, I grew up in fuckin’ Cronulla.’ Everyone slips up and, until taught otherwise, everyone’s a product of their environment so there’s no point cutting people down for things that they might not necessarily understand… it just comes down to education a lot of the time.”

“Instead of just being like, ‘That person’s a bad person,’ being like, ‘Hey dude, you can’t say that because of this and this,’ and a lot of the time it’s like, ‘Oh shit, I hadn’t thought of it that way before,’” he says.

The same message can be heard on Mini Skirt’s other new single, ‘(Untitled)’, in which Jacob asks, “Is watching Rugby League racist?” then immediately answers, “Probably not.” The song is another loose portrait of Australian life and the accompanying film clip was filmed on karaoke night at Mullumbimby’s Middle Pub.

The backstory to the clip is that Jacob had been overseas for three months with his girlfriend and when they got back, his bandmates—Jesse and Jacob Pumphrey (there are two Jacobs) and Cam Campbell—set up a surprise party at the small-town pub. They got everybody in the pub to sing Jacob ‘Happy Birthday’, even though it wasn’t his birthday, then spent the night singing and drinking.

“It was karaoke night and the oldies just fuckin’ fire up, they love it so much,” Jacob laughs. “So the music video just made itself.” The clip is a reminder that although Mini Skirt songs often have a serious message, the band are also just a bunch of mates who grew up in coastal towns and like to have a good time. Jesse and Jacob Pumphrey are brothers who grew up in Bermagui and they play bass and drums respectively; and Cam Campbell, the guitarist, is from Port Macquarie.

Jacob grew up in Cronulla and studied fine art. He does the band’s album art, t-shirt designs and practices art independently, but he says he finds the clarity of expression in writing songs refreshing. His lyrics aren’t cryptic or complicated; they’re totally literal and direct. Jacob says that this medium of art—writing lyrics and then yelling them in people’s faces at live shows—provides a more confronting and interesting reaction than gallery walls allow for.

“With making [visual] art, it’s people silently judging the things on the wall,” says Jacob. “Whereas if I get on stage I can just yell at people, which is pretty nice. Obviously music has always been, and probably always will be, more relatable to the general public. It doesn’t have that snobbery that the fine art world does, so it’s nice being able to relate and get the message across to more people.”

I tell Jacob that as far as art goes, Mini Skirt’s brand of abrasive, Aussie-accented punk songs seem about as lowbrow as art gets, which I mean as a compliment. There’s rarely a hidden metaphor, no self-indulgent solos and no aesthetic posturing; it’s just raw, fast, heavy music with a clear enough message. “What you’re saying is what you mean,” Jacob agrees.

There seems to be a bit of a resurgence in garage-punk and pub-rock at the moment which Mini Skirt are definitely a part of, having played shows with Dumb Punts, Pist Idiots and Skegss, as well as Aussie-punk veterans, Cosmic Psychos. The scene is thriving, which is still surprising to Jacob.   

“It’s always a trip out, especially when you play shows and the younger groms know the words and they’re yelling them,” Jacob laughs. “You’re like, ‘Holy shit.’”

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