Interview with Jackson Hawdon from FOAM
Perthrockers FOAM have been quietly building their fan-base on the Western coast since 2010. Having recently released their latest LP, Coping Mechanisms, the group is now ready to take their music even further.
In this interview with Karen Lowe, Jackson Hawdon dishes the dirt on the Perth music scene, experiences that have shaped them, and the upcoming tour.
You have just released your debut album Coping Mechanisms. Are you happy with how the recording went?
We made it with a guy named Andy Lawson, in his studio out in a suburb called Martin. It was really enjoyable. We’ve worked on two records with Andy there (Coping Mechanisms & 2015’s The Feeling Is Mutual), it’s always been a place I’ve enjoyed going.
The cover artwork is pretty trippy and thought provoking – who did it and is there any special meaning behind it?
The artwork is an original painting by an artist named Mow Skwoz. She’s formerly of Perth, now based in Los Angeles. She is without a doubt one of my favourite contemporary artists, I think we all feel that way too. Her style is hyper violent, but it’s so elegant and beautiful at the same time.
So the reason we approached her had a lot to do with how much we loved her work to begin with. This record lays out a lot of the ugly, uncomfortable shit that we can carry around with us, so there’s an obvious connection to be drawn with the music there.
You guys are about to head out on tour around Australia. What place are you looking forward to the most?
I don’t know, I guess, Melbourne. We have a lot of friends in Melbourne and some of the better shows that we have played have been there.
I’m particularly excited about the bands that we are playing with there, for example Childsaint, which is a West Australian band and a band called The Shabbab that has played over here a fair bit. They both really cool bands. I guess that one I’m looking forward to, though no more than the other shows really – I’m looking forward to all of them in some way or another.
We are playing this festival in regional Victoria called By The Meadow and that will be a lot of fun. It runs over three days and we will be there for the whole weekend and the bands playing are really fucking good.
Jaala, a great band out of Melbourne; Totally Mild – they’ve played with Bedroom Suck Records. We haven’t supported them before but Totally Mild have come over here and played before and a couple of those guys were in another band called Free Time. They came over here last year and we hung out with them and had a good time so there is kind of a connection there. We will catch up with them. They are really good as well.
Who else is playing? Banoffee, Jaala, Totally Mild – they are the ones that I recognise. The other bands seem cool so it’s gonna be a lot of fun. It’s something that we haven’t done before – a three day festival so it’s a big one for us.
Aside from that, they are all headline spots in each city and they are all going to be a lot of fun. We love touring so we are all looking forward to it. It’s never that difficult for us to travel together as we are all super tight and get along super well.
If you could play at any venue in the world, where would that be and why?
Oh man, that’s a tough question. Some friends of ours have played in Japan, that would be cool. I plan to travel there with my partner sometime soon, too.
The band definitely wants to travel outside of Australia. We have someone doing publicity for us in America, which has landed us on some radio stations over there. I have a friend in New York City, I’d love to make it over there one day.
As we get older, our experiences and influences change. How have yours changed over the years?
They’ve changed pretty drastically. We are all big, awkward, shy nerds who are really into music and we also spend a lot of time chasing up stuff that is pretty new and exciting. I guess I was into a lot of rock and stuff like that when I was a kid and then, once out of high school, I got into Nirvana.
From there, pretty quickly linked up to other kinds of bands that were surrounding that sort of music at the time. I really got into The Jesus Lizard and Shellac. There’s a band called Rapeman and they were a huge deal to us at the time. It’s just like, the most aggressive punk rock that you’ve ever heard. It’s just the coolest fucking shit that we’d heard at the time. Loved that, was into all that kind of stuff.
We have all spent the last four or five years listening to all different kinds of stuff. I listen to a lot of hip hop, a lot of metal. Joel, the guitarist in our band, listens to a lot of classical and a lot of soundtrack music. He’s a big fan of Ryuichi Sakamoto in particular.
We try to listen to a lot of challenging, different styles of music because you want to get better as a musician and as a person and that broad range of creative input makes a big difference. Plus, as a huge nerd, I’m into all kinds of things, new music, new tv shows, new video games etc.
I always feel that our band has been represented as sounding a very specific way – a grunge rock sound. That is reflective of a very short time in our young lives. We were really into that music and so quickly, comparatively to the time we have been obsessed with other kinds of music, it was a very small window. It seems to have defined us in a lot of people’s eyes as playing a lot of that because of our first record.
This record is decidedly not grunge rock in my opinion. It’s trying not to be because we take on a broad range of influences; it doesn’t represent just that. At the same time, that’s what people think so maybe it’s not necessarily right. You can’t tell people what to think. I mean, it’s kind of surprising as well when people say that it sounds like some kind of 90’s grunge rock band. I guess I can hear it when people point it out to me.
When you first started, what was the most valuable advice that you were given and what advice would you give to someone starting out now?
I can’t remember who exactly told us now but we’ve always had the understanding early on that if you really want to be successful as a band; really successful, then you’ve got to know what you want to do, be sure that you want to do it and just be persistent.
If you are writing a song because you really want to get it on high rotation on Triple J, well it is possible for you to do that, but in my opinion (not that it can’t happen) it’s not exactly the key that will set you up for being able to make five, six, seven albums.
I think the key is to know what we want to do and try our very hardest at being the best at that, continue to be progressive as much as you can, continue to grow and just be persistent. Don’t let anything bring you down and make sure you are good; work hard and that’s the best thing you really can do.
That was something that we were taught early on and it’s really made a big difference. It’s influenced the way we go about everything that we do. We’re not a band that is trying to get song on high rotation on Triple J but we might make a song that we really like and that we hope other people really like.
If we continue to do that, then in our eyes, we will always be succeeding because we will always be progressive and that’s the most important thing.
With the industry, it’s really impossible to make any money, at least over a long period of time. There are no guarantees and all that kind of stuff so just being sure of what you want to do creatively; it’s a big safety net.
As a band, what has been your biggest challenge so far and how have you overcome it?
I guess it relates to the point I was just making then. The toughest thing has been figuring out what we wanna do and coming to terms with ourselves. The band itself, the three of us, have all been friends for most of our lives, all been hanging out together longer than being in a band and have grown up together.
The biggest challenges we have faced as a band have been those growing pains that anyone experiences as a person and experiencing that together. Joel, the guitarist is my oldest friend.
We’ve known each other since we were nine and ten years old. Everything that happens between nine and twenty four years old, we’ve gone through it all together and that’s put tension on the band; brought the band together so it’s a roller coaster ride of all of that bullshit of growing up, we’ve all gone through it together. It means we have butted heads plenty but has also means that we have had to support each other through tough times.
I know that’s kind of vague but that’s probably the biggest defining challenge of being in our band, just having to be around each other all the time but having been friends with each other for so long helps.
It also makes the band better for it because you feel nothing can really touch us as we are all looking out for each other and we are all best friends. We all hang out outside the band. At one stage or another, we have all lived with together, we are all friends and friends with each others partners. We all hang out so it’s all good. Even our manager is one of our closest friends. It makes it very resistant to outside forces.
Your songs have a dark, grungy undertone to them, where does the inspiration come from?
Like I said before, I can see what people mean when they say they hear the dark, grungy overtones, I think, that maybe, we are looking at it from a different angle. The record is about (and a lot of our songs are about) being the age that we are. We are all pretty young and struggling with mental health, growing up, all those type of things.
In terms of specific records that inspired the band – Slint, Spiderland, The Jesus Lizard, Shellac, have been a huge deal for us, especially when putting the record together and those that breathe that, that see that list, that know those bands and know they are all on the same record label and lived in the same city around the same point in time. We were very much influenced by a certain late 80s punk rock sound from Chicago – a huge deal for all of us.
Even the person that mastered this record, a guy called Bob Weston and he runs a business called Chicago Mastering Services and he recorded some of those records, mastered some of those records and plays in some of those bands. So those were records that were all pretty important to us.
I guess a lot of it comes from Joel, from his state of mind, his struggles etc but I don’t really want to speak on Joel’s behalf when it comes to that kind of stuff. The record is about those issues, growing pains, coming to terms with yourself and all that so I can see how that translates to the dark, grungy undertones.
You have played many shows – what has been your worst show and your best show?
Well I definitely know what our worst show was. One of the worst shows we have ever played, and it was no one’s fault but ours, was a show at The Flytrap, at the back of the old Fly By Night Club.
First of all, we just sucked – we were just really, really bad and then the drum kit that I was using kinda fell apart, the kick drums; the kick drums can do this thing where if they are not secured properly and you kick them, they can twist and go one way so there was no kick drums in a lot of the songs.
I remember we had high hopes for the show, Kim Salmon was there and he just sort of left at the end of the second song – that was demoralising and yeah, we were just really, really bad. We played with a lot of great bands that night so it was disappointing that we didn’t do better.
In terms of best shows that we played, I think one of my favourite shows that we played, we did a split EP with a band called Puck and the first gig that we did off the back of that, like, we did two songs – like a song each on there and the show we did with them was really intense.
We played and people were climbing shit, jumping off shit and this one guy, he ended up bringing the whole thing to a grinding halt. He was stage diving, jumping on stage, jumping off and he had a water bottle full of tequila and was standing on stage and pouring some into our mouths. It was really cool – like super rock and roll but I think he either fell over or was jumping off the stage and knocked over a drink at the same time all over a pedal board. Everything just went completely quiet.
All the power went out at Mojos, the lights – it just all died! We had played either two or three songs and I can’t remember exactly how, but we managed to get the amps working but couldn’t get the microphones working and while we didn’t end up playing a full set, we played a few more songs instrumentally. There was just a really good vibe in the room, everyone was on the same page and understood that there was nothing that we could have done about it. That was awesome. That was really fun.
We supported DZ Deathrays and those shows were really fun. We really enjoyed doing that tour. It was the second album that they put out and it did really well for them.
I think they sold out most of the shows presale and we were just kids at the time as it was a few years ago. We were just following them around, hanging out and learnt a lot from them about being in a band and not taking yourselves too seriously and how to handle yourselves while touring and all that kind of shit.
Mostly though, those shows were just a lot of fun. There was another band on tour called Palms and they were the nicest people I’ve ever met and we ended up making a great group of friends that we have maintained over the years. We always catch up when someone is in town or when we go over. So that has been one of the best experiences that we have had.
A lot of the shows we have been doing recently have had a really good vibe as well – lots of people, lots of big energy. A lot of crazy shit that people do at gigs. Since we have started promoting the album, the singles and stuff, we have had a good response and it’s been reflected. So those shows have been really good as well.
If you could pick any other career other than music, what would you choose or have you always known what you wanted?
I still don’t know what I wanna do. I have no fucking idea what I wanna do, I don’t know what I am doing right now. I am doing this because, probably for the same reason a lot of people play in bands – I just wanna hang out with my friends and I get to.
If I wasn’t doing this, what would I do? I wish I knew. I wish I knew what that was because I probably would have looked into it at some point. I think I’m still figuring that out.
What local bands are you currently listening to and would recommend to everyone out there looking for new music?
Childsaint, Pat Chow, a band from Melbourne called Heads Of Charm – those are the ones I can think of straight up; all the bands playing our album launch are all really good friends of ours and all really great bands. We’re very lucky and I think it comes from having been in bands in Perth for a very long time.
We know a lot of bands that have come up and doing really well locally so it’s really cool to be able to do a gig like that and have so many awesome bands play, so like, our best friends play. But yeah, those three are my favourite. I know Heads of Charm are from Melbourne but they are at a similar level to those two bands.
Rag n’ Bone are one of my favourite bands from Perth. They’re about to put out an album (March 18th via MGM) and I really, really hope it does well for them. They have so much potential.
Anything else you would like to add?
I just hope that people really like the album. It took us a really long time to make and we are really proud of the record. I just hope that people like it.