No one moves here
An interview with Stephanie "Summer Flake" Crase
Adelaide is somewhat of an enigmatic city to me. I've never visited the place, nor had the desire to visit. I can honestly count on one hand all the people I know from the City Of Churches. I once overheard someone say that there is literally no need for Adelaide to even exist any more, as planes no longer need to refuel to get to Perth. That seems harsh — particularly seeing as the Coopers brewery and the Barossa Valley are around as nearby commodities. In all honesty though, I don't even watch Adelaide test matches, seeing as we've usually won/lost the series by then. In fact, the only time I even think about the place is when Matt Banham re-releases a No Through Road album as a free download, or I see the lead actor from Snowtown working at the shop in Glebe where I get my bike serviced.
And yet when I hear Stephanie Crase's music as Summer Flake, it makes me feel like I'm missing out on something special in the city she calls home. Maybe it's isolation. Maybe it's time. Maybe it's simply the boredom that inspires creation. Whatever it is it there is an ethereal entity that weaves its way through Summer Flake's music, infusing her dream pop songs with an eerie and slightly melancholy quality that leads me to wonder what it's like to be an artist in Adelaide.
I decided to find out a little bit more about what makes Steph Crase tick so I emailed her a series of questions about her music and her hometown. Read her hilarious and honest responses below, and then let us know if you're keen for a road trip to the Mouth of the Murray.
How did you get started playing music?
The Crases are notoriously tone deaf (fam-jam Happy Birthday renditions are amaaazzzzing), but as some sort of cruel joke/ rite of passage, every Crase must learn an instrument at school. I played the recorder in year three, but they found out I couldn't read the music and was just copying everyone. The same thing happened with viola, and classical guitar.
My brother is 5 years older than me and in 1994, when he was 18 and I was 13, we went to America and he bought every CD in the alternative top 20 charts (Weezer, Veruca Salt, Greenday, Hole, Nirvana, The Breeders, Offspring, Beck, Luscious Jackson, Smashing Pumpkins, REM, Bjork, Beastie Boys, Nine Inch Nails, Pavement, Portishead) and I loved it all and became obsessed with bands and wore ball-bearing necklaces and cargo jackets and old-man flared woollen pants with a cool belt.
So seeing as I was more enthusiastic about music than any Crase before me, my folks made a final effort to try and find me a music teacher that didn't need me to read music. I ended up getting lessons from a guy who played in a Beatles cover band called The Beavers that performed Wednesdays at the Arkaba, and we took turns picking songs to learn by ear, and then we would record down all the parts to cassette, with an electronic drum beat. I would do all the guitar and bass parts, and he would do allllll the vocals. My choices were stuff like Juliana Hatfield, L7, Karate, and errr, Primus, and his choices were the theme song from Titanic, Queen, Stevie Ray Vaughn and the Eagles. I think I got a pretty well rounded education. I wish I still had those tapes though...
When did you first realise people were paying attention to what you were doing with Summer Flake?
Ha, who's paying attention?? Probably any appearance of attention is self-instigated — like, I sent out a "press release" to you folks letting you know I'm doing a show in Sydney! And then close pals kind of have to be like "YOU'RE AMAZING, GO YOOUU!" even though they are probably vomiting inside. I can't tell you the number of times friends were like "phew, we don't have to pretend to like No Through Road anymore!" after it disbanded, and to that I say "TRUE FRIENDS SHOULD PRETEND TO LIKE IT FOREVERRRR!" My dad bought my cassette from the Heavy Lows website by the way. But then he whinged to me about the slow postage. There ya go.
What does Adelaide offer/not offer to an artist like yourself?
I was reflecting on "Adelaide" just the other day to an overseas friend and going on about how it's not as competitive as it used to be and more relaxed, but I think maybe that just reflects on me and how I'm older now. Even though I know plenty of folks here working really hard at it and being really productive, it feels like there's so little pressure to succeed or be liked or even noticed in Adelaide - which is both good and bad. It means that a lot of people make music for their own enjoyment. My family hassles me a bit for letting my "hobby" (I call it my "passion") consume me so much when I record or tour, but what ELSE am I meant to do in Adelaide?? I can't remember enjoying life much before I was making music.
I don't feel any nerves or expectations in Adelaide, you can grow and try new things without them defining you, and it's fun playing shows at venues that feel as comfortable as your lounge room. It feels like here your 'scene' becomes defined by friendships not bands or styles, which is great for variety of sound and stuff, however, it also means that generally no one buys your merch or pays to get into your shows, so you have epic door lists until those not in the bands eventually join the bands just so they can go to the gig for free, am I right Old Mate?
Who are some of your other favourite Adelaide artists, up to and including Cold Chisel?
Lots of bands come and go. What's happening now feels different to a year ago, and fives years ago, and totally different from 10 years ago. A huge amount of people move to Melbourne or Sydney after 23 I think. And no one moves here. So I find my friends either getting younger or more nostalgic.
At the moment, I'm loving Rule of Thirds, Divine Rip and Bruff Superior, and I'm looking forward to Fair Maiden (aka Ellen Carey) finally releasing something after playing around the place for six years! Even though I play bass in Fair Maiden, I can objectively say it's gonna be amazing.
I also love the bands and individuals who just keep at it and have been around for a million years and are still evolving and performing and enjoying it, like Sandy Cenin and Avant Gardeners, and Nigel Koop and Home for the Def, who mixes the Metro every week. He must have released over 50 albums now, but keeps playing to small crowds and is variably awful or the most profound experience of your life.
Who are some of your less Adelaide-y influences?
I dunno about influences, like I said, I learnt some Primus. Lately I've been listening to No Joy, Tamaryn, The Knife, Yo La Tengo, Dump, Sarah Chadwick, Gillian Welch, and Helium - and about every six months I go through a phase of early Sebadoh, Cat Power or Elliott Smith.
You've done a fair bit of recording with former Adelaide legend Matt Banham — how did you guys get paired up and what's it like working with Matt?
Poor old "former legend". In 2004 I was 23 and hadn't played in any bands outside of Hieronymus — my high school band that covered Seether at the Year 12 assembly, but we interchanged the word "Seether" for "Weaver", for Alex Weaver, head of SRC. I'd seen Matt playing solo, supporting Lou Barlow and M Ward and stuff, and he was really whiny and great. And I believe that he was really interested in this girl and her housemate told Matt I played guitar, so he recruited me to impress the girl. Classic Banham. We did one gig where I noodled on a few songs with him at the Jade Monkey, and after that he formed the seven-piece No Through Road band and I was the token female and also helped keep our average age under 30. Matt and I ended up becoming housemates and spent years collaborating on "life". The first time I played drums ever was playing Die For Something for NTR [No Through Road], FYI.
The No Through Road Seven, circa Before You Were Born
Since Matt's moved to Sydney a couple of years ago we've emailed pretty regularly, mostly really stupid stuff, but often we send each other tracks and ideas and he's been insanely good about encouraging me and helping me get over my irrational nerves about playing "my own" songs in public etc. I don't know if I've offered him any good support or advice in return, except maybe "buy a new shirt, you look like you'd smell".
Would you ever leave Adelaide?
Yeah, sure I would. I mean, not right now, but maybe. I moved to London to join Batrider in 2008 for 2 years. Adelaide's starting to get pretty lonely these days, but then again I am also pretty lazy and enjoy the perks of cheap living, such as working part-time, and having a spare room or two to make sweet, sweet music — do I really want to give that stuff up?
Does every obnoxious blog that interviews you ask "Would you ever leave Adelaide?"?
Nah, nobody wants Adelaide folk flooding their superior cities, so it's usually discouraged. Inevitably, most people do leave Adelaide, whether to get better jobs, or live in places they deem more exciting or even just follow their friends and family. Fair enough.
Batrider, 2008. Official press shot.
If I lived in Adelaide, would I in fact be home by now?
You would work part-time, so you probably wouldn't have gotten out of bed today.
Your recent trip to the states for SXSW was one of the worst touring experiences I think anyone has ever heard of. What positive things did you pull away from that trip and would you ever do it again?
SXSW was always just a great excuse for a bit of an adventure, and visit friends and stuff. Be careful what you wish for. I'd probably do another adventure again, but maybe something new. SXSW would be fun if you're a punter and you've got the energy, or if you're an artist with some US support and it's just part of a bigger trip or tour maybe. It's interesting...
You're heading to Sydney soon for another show — how do Sydney crowds respond to your vibe?
I've played twice in Sydney as Summer Flake, both times solo, and usually to Matt Banham's friends. They received me like very polite drunken friends of friends should. Firm handshakes.
You're signed to Heavy Lows. What's it like working with those guys?
Well, I've known Stacey Wilson for years now, since she was a youth and she is a lovely, crazy, peculiar, sweet, multi-talented, enigmatic person and I love her and her partner Rani, lots. Stacey has always been a doer; booking shows, making posters, starting bands, starting a label, promoting people. She's really supportive and it was really easy to plan this release:
"Want to release on Heavy Lows?"
"Yes, when do you want the masters?"
"OK, I will release it in February."
Summer Flake is largely a solo thing — would you ever expand it to a full on band permanently?
Yeah I'd like to, but I'm also still a tiny bit shy/lazy. I like playing drums and guitar and I like being able to do 20 minutes of recording here and there or whenever. But it does get lonely - playing solo is easy to organise but kind of terrifying to do. I imagine audiences find it boring. I've played with a few different Summer Flake band line-ups, but haven't been able to afford to ship them all up to Sydney. I'm definitely planning on putting a bigger band together to support an album one day. For Sydney's show, 24 April at Petersham Bowling Club, I'm playing with my drummer boy Seb Calabretto (ex Hit The Jackpot), while he's over from London. It's actually really fun working through these songs that I filled out when I recorded - back to basics and workin' on different versions and dynamics. And Seb's a pretty unique drummer, really wild jazzy, skitterish beats.
You're a couple of EPs deep now. When can we expect a full album?
Well, I've recorded a new album's worth of songs at home. I'm just mixing it now and working out what to do with it. Might release something, an album or otherwise, with Rice is Nice (maybe, fingers crossed, we'll see, no pressure) in the next year or two, depends on what works with schedules and other things. And I'd also like to work with Heavy Lows again. I really wanna release on vinyl! I'm being greedy now. But I'm also working for it — I have started working on some new song ideas for another future release and maybe some side project ideas... I'm not saying any of these things will be quality or anything, but it feels good to be busy and entertained... By myself.
Stephanie is playing tomorrow night (Anzac Day Eve, April 24) at the Petersham Bowling Club in Sydney, as well as on Friday (April 26) at The Hideaway in Brisbane.