Photos by Alex Wall
Alex Wall is an all-rounder.
And by that I don’t mean he bats, bowls and fields—this isn’t an article about cricket. Alex Wall is a Sydney-based musician and photographer who is equally talented at both. For twelve years, Alex toured the world as the frontman for Bleeding Knees Club and Wax Witches, an arrangement that presented him with endless photo opportunities. Alex’s ‘fly on the wall’ approach to photography invites you into the world of fun and mischief as a touring musician. Fast forward to 2021, Sydney’s long-ass second lockdown saw Alex and his mega-talented girlfriend Matilda Dods combine their mega-talent forces to bring you one mega-talented power-couple project: Baptizm. So, what is Baptizm? Read the article, dammit!
How did you and Matilda first come up with Baptizm?
I’d been searching for something new to do musically for a while; I was at a dead-end with everything I had been working on and knew I didn’t want to keep beating my head against the same wall. I was going around in circles for two years and was not finishing anything. Then I met Matilda. I was doing these long night drives from Sydney to Byron every couple of weeks to see her. While driving I was always listening to heaps of Krautrock and long psych songs, and I was really enjoying the mood it set in my brain. Super visual music that was more music than songs. So subconsciously, I had this plan to make this sort of music in my head for a while. I eventually started recording these instrumentals and was trying to sing over them myself, but it really wasn’t working. So one night, Matilda was watching me record and I just asked if she would try sing on the track, and it sounded perfect. We both loved how it sounded so we just kept making songs together from then on.
Where does the name come from?
I like the idea of our music washing over you and leaving you a better person. The same idea as a religious baptism.
Did being in lockdown help or hinder the project?
It’s been so nice having so much time to record whenever I want. It’s hard when you’re at work and you have an idea, but forget it by the time you get home or are too tired to record. Matilda and I have had a great time sitting in the home studio, drinking wine and making music. It probably would never have happened without lockdown. Lockdown also gave me time to realise that I was ready to leave behind the music world I had previously been involved in for the last 12 years and move into something new, which has been a great feeling.
What does the collaborative process between boyfriend and girlfriend look like?
It’s usually me sitting in the studio recording all these weird sounds, and Matilda wondering what the hell I’m doing. I’ll be hitting a pot with a screwdriver and she’ll be like, ‘What’s that horrible noise!’ Then she brings in some words and her voice and it all makes sense. It was pretty hard to convince her to sing at first, but now she’s loving it. It’s so much fun, I’m really excited to tour as well. It will finally be like a bit of a holiday instead of a bunch of dudes on the road destroying each other for a month.
For those who are familiar with your previous projects (Wax Witches and Bleeding Knees Club), Baptizm sounds considerably different. Why the change of pace?
I was pretty pigeonholed with BKC. I’ve always loved a variety of music, and it feels really nice to be out of the constraints of guitar rock. Honestly, I got so over the whole scene my previous band was involved in. I’d been playing in BKC for nearly 12 years, and that garage rock world has changed so much since we began. I didn’t feel like I fit in anymore. Maybe I’m jaded, but I swear there was a lot more art and music, and a lot less shoey’s and bros. I still love punk more than anything, but I’m pretty down to not yell into people’s faces for a while. I think people were getting pretty sick of it as well. I’m so gracious for all the opportunities BKC gave me and wouldn’t change it for the world but yeah, I was ready to move on and do something else.
You have quite the catalogue of music photos, are a lot of them from touring with BKC and Wax Witches?
Yeah! You meet some crazy people and see some really wild things while being on tour for 11 years. I was lucky to always have a camera with me. I also think when I moved to New York, I was surrounded by some insane people and got in a lot of strange situations, and that’s when I really started to make a lot of photographs.
What are some of your favourite photos taken during years of touring?
When I moved to New York in 2013, I was surrounded by some really amazing and inspiring people. There was such a good music scene there at the time, and it all kind of disappeared before everyone’s eyes. I’ve got so many photos from that time that mean so much to me. Photos at Death by Audio, 285 Kent, The Cake Shop or Glasslands are really special I think. I also love a lot of the photos I’ve taken of Thee Oh Sees or The Garden while on tour with Mac DeMarco. I have this photo of Dev [Hynes, aka Blood Orange] blowing out his birthday candles in a ping pong hall that I love as well. Anything from my years in New York and LA mean the most to me.
How has your photographic practice changed over the years?
I started taking photos of things going on around me and had a real ‘fly on the wall’, candid approach. I wanted to get people in the moment, mainly shooting with my Nikon f4 or Yashica T4, backstage at shows or at parties. Then I would usually stick them in notebooks and scratch or draw all over them. I have notebooks full of photos somewhere out there. But I put them in an art show a few years ago and have no idea where they ended up. Now I’m shooting mainly studio and fashion work and have to make a lot of compromises on how I approach photography, which isn’t always fun. But I’m super nerdy about lighting, so I really enjoy that side of the fashion/studio world. I still always carry around my range finder everywhere I go, ’cause you never know where you might end up or what you might see.
Who has been inspiring you lately?
Musically, I’ve been listening to a lot of Rowland S. Howard, The Fall, Portishead, Clinic, my friend has a great project called Buzz Kull which I’m loving. All that good stuff. Photo wise, Daniel Arnold, Paul Kooiker, Stef Mitchell, Juergen Teller, Tom Mitchell, William Eggleston, Mark Lebon.
Any advice for people who’ve just started shooting photos?
Always carry your camera. It’s not hard to always have a camera on you. Assist other photographers. You realise how little you know once you start working for someone who has been doing it for years. Don’t watch those YouTube film kids. They are depressing. And… there are enough photos of flowers in the world. We don’t need any more.