Special to AMFM Magazine by Andrew Cole
Ask the average American on the street about a place called Tasmania and you’ll get a furrowed brow… perhaps a comment about an animated devil. It certainly isn’t a place that readily resides in the American mainstream, much less believed to be an actual place at all. And yet there it lies, the last bit of terra firma between the Australian mainland and icy hell that is Antarctica. Hobart, the diminutive capital of the mystical island lies tucked within a bay, amid lush green hills and for years a fiery little local scene of punk, indie and metal thrived there in relative obscurity. Enola Fall, led by sole original member Joe Nuttall, were among that scene’s early successes.
“When we started playing in Hobart (and for most of the time we were there) everything was very DIY. You’d advertise with flyers and posters, set up in the corner of a basement club (no stage) bring your own PA, dress the place up with fairylights and bring your own crowd. No sound engineer, no lights, you’d do your own door… That was what a gig was, and that still feels the most normal to me.”
But about five years ago the rest of the world began to take notice of the riverside town, with the opening of the spectacular MONA (the largest museum in the southern hemisphere) the art, sex, and musical orgy that is DARKMOFO and the flurry of other illuminating events around it.
It was this sudden cultural renaissance that became the impetus for Hobart’s favorite sons to begin reaching outside of Australian borders. Beginning with stints in Germany and the UK and leading to CMJ in New York and Culture Collide in Los Angeles, the band hopscotched thousands of miles before setting up shop in Los Angeles, where they are busily preparing for their May release, “Bloodhound.”
The first single off that release is “Vestigial Tail.” A hypnotic looping piano line is underscored by pulsing low strings and orchestral percussion. It’s achingly beautiful and the choruses are soaring, anthemic with Nuttall’s uniquely high, powerful vocal painting a visceral image of murder and obsession: traces of blood, bone and cartilage left on a knife and fingers that can’t let go.
It’s this image that binds the song so tightly to it’s accompanying video. Idiosyncratic and emotionally gripping, there is no miming, no band pretending to play instruments, no urban cool imagery. Instead a short, haunting story appears, in the vein of David Lynch’s best work or Hannibal’s terrifying dream sequences.
The clip is a collaboration with German filmmakers Elementree, and the vision of Patrick Grzanna and Natalie Plaskura. Plaskura explained her method, “In my work as a filmmaker I love to create small aesthetic universes, giving the spectators enough space to interpret and unfold their own feelings. Anything can be an inspiration, a person, a moment, even a sound. Hearing this song, I had immediately images on my mind, which was the spark to start the development of this dark tale.”
There are plans for Enola Fall and Elementree to combine forces on future releases, a partnership that pleases Nuttall, “The upcoming album is (we hope) a distillation of our own weird aesthetic, and we hope that by the time the year ends it will be accompanied by a visual journey to match the music. Less rock stars, more lucid dream.”
AMFM and Nuttall discussed the band’s move to America and latest work.
AMFM: What happened in Australia that caused you to take an 8,000-mile sojourn?
Nuttall: We never thought of ourselves as “Australian.” We were definitely a Tasmanian band. And touring mainland Australia for us was in many ways just as alien as touring Europe or the US. Australia was fond of us. But it became more and more apparent that what we were doing was resonating more with audiences in other places. I still don’t have an answer for that. I’m Anglo-Tasmanian. There’s a strange Northern UK feel in the air sometimes in Tasmania. Especially in the Midlands, you can smell peat and whiskey on the air. But you’re also acutely aware of presence of the indigenous culture and the huge, towering history of it.
AMFM: What made you choose Los Angeles, as opposed to another city that perhaps doesn’t devour its young?
Nuttall: When I was younger it’s the LAST place I would have picked. I would have lusted naively after New York, or dreamed of being a London buzz band. But we got up, and we got ourselves on planes and we played these places and the biggest YES we heard was in LA. Maybe it’s because we stand out like a sore thumb here.
AMFM: And yet, since you’ve arrived in Los Angeles, you’ve become quickly embraced by the local scene and press, which is perhaps counter to what you might have expected.
Nuttall: I think Los Angeles is different cities to different people. I’ve heard the horror stories about being a struggling actor here, I’ve watched the documentaries about Scientology and industry desperation. For me LA really happens on the streets of Silverlake and Downtown and in the dive bars in the Valley, not the power centers and velvet ropes of Hollywood. My own experience has been that LA is a very warm, excitable street level city. The brick and mortar support of amazing groups like Buzzbands LA, LionMark Media, On 3, Spaceland, Sound Majesty, Corazon etc… has been completely amazing.
AMFM: What is you favorite thing about Los Angeles so far:
Nuttall: It’s essentially about ten different cities stuck together out of convenience. People are different in each part, food is different, even groceries are different. It can feel overwhelming, but then you drive slowly along the ocean from Topanga down to Venice at night and the air is warm, and you can smell the pacific and you’re in a genuinely dreamlike place.
AMFM: You’ve chosen to come to America during a specific time of political tumult, did leaving the relative sanctity of Australia give you concern?
Nuttall: Absolutely yes. Trump’s America is a deeply worrying place. However, being male and white takes away 99% of those concerns. That’s what’s so fucking insidious about it. I guess they could deport me.
AMFM: If there was one thing you could set Americans straight on, what would it be?
Nuttall: That’s fucking dangerous, I wouldn’t presume to know anything they don’t, considering there’s 320 million of them. There are things I disagree with here of course. I’m not the hugest fan of guns. But it seems like this country has them in it’s blood.
AMFM: We are currently experiencing a revolution in #metoo, trans rights, gay rights, kids marching against guns. You don’t seem to be overtly political writer, and yet your allegiances are well known.
Nuttall: This is a hard one. I believe passionately in all the causes you just mentioned there. But I can’t help but think there is a certain arrogance in treating pop music like a podium. There are incredibly verbose, articulate people talking about these things all the time without the benefit of a producer. Who the fuck am I to try and talk over the top of them? Ultimately the right song to make the right point will come along. Try to force it and you’re diluting (or worse exploiting) the message.
AMFM: You seem to have found a creative partner in Elementree. Explain the concept of blindly handing your art to someone you’ve never met in order to let them interpret it.
Nuttall: I’ve spent a fair bit of time in Germany, there seems to be a good relationship between us and German music lovers. They take no bullshit and they tell you what they really think. I love that. Patrick, Natalie and Elementree took something we did and absolutely ran with it. Taking it into places I’d not considered. Which is a wonderful feeling. Handing your art over to someone with no idea of what they’re going to do with it, is exhilarating. And frankly one of the best things you can do with it.
AMFM: Speak to me about the element of creative trust between you and Elementree. How did you first meet Patrick?
Nuttall: I actually never have met him. Unless you count meeting on the internet as meeting someone (which I guess I don’t) I saw what these guys were capable of and when the opportunity came up to have them make a video, we jumped at it. Cos we knew whatever it was, it was going to be awesome.
AMFM: You don’t write happy music, then again, it is not overtly sad either. It seems to tread the blue notes of the human condition. Is there something specific you are trying to express in your writing, or are you just looking to convey a post modern impressionism?
Nuttall: I don’t believe in the term ‘the human condition’. It means nothing. It’s like saying ‘life maaaaaaan’ and stretching it out over 15 syllables. Everyone is hearing this story differently. Everyone is completely fucked in their own unique way. If Enola Fall is saying anything, it’s simply that we’re all experiencing this dumpster fire together. Music is such a paradoxical thing. You hear all this pop music around that sounds so sad, or so heartbroken. But listen to the lyrics and hear the major chords come booming in over the chorus and ultimately it’s saying the same thing over and over again… “everything is fine, dance” That’s fine, but that’s not me.
AMFM: On your recordings, you come across as lush and introspective, whereas the live version of the band is spiky and loud. How do you make peace with that?
Nuttall: Oh yeah totally. That’s a weird one. I think with modern pop music, there is a (mainly industry based) desire to make the records and the live show almost indistinguishable. You liked the song? NOW SEE IT LIIIIIIVE. The studio and the stage are completely different places and they create different sounds. I think they’re certainly related… but the feeling in the studio was to try and make a little dream. The feeling on stage is to try and snap everyone wide awake.
AMFM: Across a 15-year career, you’ve been the one constant in Enola Fall. Any regrets?
Nuttall: The stereotype here would be that I’m impossible to work with! Which is probably true. But there’s something else going on too. I always wanted more… more shows, more touring, bigger rooms, bigger records. 100% all down the line. And that’s a lot to ask of people. Sooner or later people are going to tire.
AMFM: I’m sure you get this a lot. Why Enola Fall? Is there a WWII connection you are reflecting upon?
Nuttall: Not even slightly. The name ‘Enola’ is a nice sounding name… then we put ‘Fall’ on the end because that sounded cool and mysterious. That is literally the whole story.
AMFM: You’ve decided to bring Mark Woodward over from Melbourne instead of forming an American backing band. Does having a fellow Australian in the band make the transition easier?
Nuttall: Mark is a legend. In certain parts of Melbourne he is worshipped as a minor deity.
AMFM: Meanwhile, you’ve had two incredibly different yet able American drummers, Paul Doyle and Daveedo McCullough, manning the kit, yet somehow they both function within the music.
Nuttall: Yep. I think if a song has a pulse, has a soul, then it should be interpretable. If you demand that people play everything note perfect like it is on the record, then you lose a lot of what makes live music so special. (this goes back to that live vs. studio thing again) Drums are far more sensual and expressive than a lot of people think. Drummers should be free to pound on that shit like Ginger Baker.
AMFM: Do you have plans for follow up single/video?
Nuttall: There’s a song on the album called ‘Kill Your Darlings’ which has been slowly growing on my mind. The song is all heavy buzzing synths and soaring vocals. For the snare sound, we sampled a nailgun in an empty warehouse, and it sounds massive. Elementree are on board so I’m super excited to see where we go with it. It’s an old saying in writing, both poetry and music. Don’t create anything you can’t destroy. A lot of people think of writing music as a purely creative process, but there is often just as much letting go of things that don’t work, or don’t serve the best purpose. Kill Your Darlings. I never thought of it as a single, but it’s beginning to make its case.
More about ENOLA FALL on the band’s official website