As an artist in any creative field, there are few things more disheartening than being labelled as simply 'lucky'. As anyone that's ever pursued a career in music will know, finding success is a slog nothing short of brutal – the long and sleepless nights spent pouring blood, sweat and tears into your craft; the monolithic struggle that comes in bringing the product of it to the surface; oftentimes, the release of it that seems to fly under the radar, adored more by small pockets of friends and family, rather than embraced en masse by the masses. When you do find success with a release, it almost certainly has nothing to do with luck, but rather the hard work you put into mining it for yourself.
Wollongong punks Totty are one such band who've carved out an impressive chunk of success for themselves – since dropping their rip-roaring debut EP, Cut The Poppies in 2017, the foursome have captivated the Australian music landscape with fire in their eyes, scoring lucrative airplay on Triple J, shoutouts from some of the biggest bands in the game, and more festival slots than there may actually be festivals. They've got their sights set of even bigger milestones in the near futurem too. Take for example the five-date theatre tour they'll be jumping on at the end of the month, opening for scene mainstays Skegss ahead of crowds 1,500+ punters strong every night.
And yet, they still can't shake the all-too-common backhanded compliment, "You're so lucky!"
Such is where the basis for their sharp new single "Lucky" comes from. It's a gloriously ripping 'f*** you' to any comment section warrior who's placed Totty's blazing of the trail down to mere luck; an anthem of solidarity to artists who've also had their talents underestimated; in general, just a really bloody good song. And there's a really cute dog in the music video – so honestly, you have no excuse not to give this one a suss.
We caught up with frontwoman Kelly Jansch (and for a few questions, guitarist Max Piroddi) to riff on how "Lucky" came to life, what the future holds for Totty, and how they manage to pull that uniquely sweet, punchy tone out of their guitars.
To kick things off on an extremely important note, please tell us everything about the (extremely adorable) dog in your new promo photo. Also, please tell her that I love her and give her a good belly scratch for me.
The most important question first! Her name is Totty, and she’s one of the main reasons the band formed in the first place. She’s a four-year-old kelpie and she is my dog, best friend and love of my life all in one. I gave her a hella tummy tickle and she did that thing where they kick their leg in glee. Stoked!
Incredible. Thank you. Anyway, let’s talk about “Lucky” – congratulations on this ripper new single! Where did the initial idea for this track come from, and what’s the story behind it?
Max: Musically, the song started out with the first chorus riff and went from there. We felt like it was such a great build and release of tension, and really got us excited once we started playing. We just built the rest of the song around the riff, trying to push and pull dynamics to leave that big payoff riff right where it needed to be. It's a bit slower than a lot of our older tunes, but we think it still packs a great punch, and gives us a bit more space to explore.
Kelly: The story behind "Lucky" started off as a bit of a sarcastic response to a few people telling us we were heaps lucky for everything that happened after "Uncomfortable" was released. It was weird because it’s such a normalised thing to say, but we were like, “Wait a sec, this isn't just luck! We worked for this!” The lyrics and storyline behind the song all kind of flowed on from that thought. At the end when it breaks down, we tried to give off that feeling of doubt, thinking, “Is this just because of who I know? Was this all handed to us?” Because when people are constantly telling you how lucky you are, there's going be that doubt. But in the end, you have to remember that you’ve worked hard.
You’ve also got this (painfully relatable) music video to go along with the single. What was it like to make that?
Shooting the clip was a really fun experience. We spent the day roaming around Wollongong with our mate Jye and playing out a bunch of scenes that we’ve all experienced first-hand. I think the highlight was being able to pop into this little old-school convenience store out near Kell’s house – a real 1970s Australiana kind of place, right on the street corner, with everything you could ask for on a hot afternoon. We also popped into the Rad Bar with a bunch of mates which was a lot of fun – having everyone around for a catch-up is always awesome, and we thought we really had to capture the fact that no matter how horribly a day can go, you can always rely on your mates to be there for you and keep you safe. It was really awesome working with someone like Jye – he had his own direction and really helped us flesh out and form the clip.
Is “Lucky” intended to be a one-off standalone single, or is there a new record in the works?
We’re always working on new songs and exploring new things, but for the moment we thought we'd show "Lucky" off to the world because of how proud we are of it! We're definitely keen to get back in the studio, though, so who knows what will come next?
Where are you excited to take your signature sound and style on the next record following Cut The Poppies?
I think we're just looking to keep pushing our own boundaries in the future, like we have with "Lucky". Our first EP was recorded between the shed at Kelly's mum's house and at the Rad Bar, and although we're still all super stoked on it, being able to sit down in a proper studio with an awesome team – such as Jack Nigro and Brett Jansch – has really allowed us to flesh out our ideas, and push ourselves into opening up new avenues for our songwriting and our sound. From being able to get our amps blasting at full volume to chucking all of our drums onto tape, we feel like we're getting closer and closer to the sounds we've always loved to hear in our heads. We're doing our best to refine our songwriting and our ears in studio, so I guess you could say we're looking to get louder and noisier, and gain a better grasp on how far we can push ourselves!
What were you going for in terms of the tones you wanted to achieve on this track in particular?
We're always pushing for bigger and heavier guitar tones, and in this track we were really hoping to to create a large soundscape, building up a thick composition while still leaving room for the other instruments to shine throug. We used our two workhorse amps for the guitars, and did our best to let each of their characteristics shine through. For the bridge, we wanted to explore something new, so we ran an old Ibanez CS9 in stereo with the two-amp setup to create an awesome sounding sweep throughout the breakdown and solo.
What guitars were you wielding in the studio on it, and what amps and effects were you going through?
Guitar-wise, we generally just use our live gear – Jazzmasters and P-Basses. Given the opportunity to blast amps in the studio, we dialed back a bit on the effects and tried to create our dynamics straight from driving our amps. I think we used an MI-Audio Blue Boy for a little bit more grit, and a sans-amp for bass DI – that's pretty much it.
For amps, the majority of the song was run through a Marshall JCM and a dusty old head we like to call Geoff. Geoff was handmade in the early '70s by Darryl from ValveTone, before he started his own company, Scion. It's built from stuff found during council cleanups, and transistors and valves ripped out of electronics, all chucked into an ugly chipboard box. It can rival any JCM, and we absolutely love it! Big shouts to our friend Sweeney for blessing us with this beast.
For the bridge and solo section, Max and Kell locked themselves in the live room with two Marshall stacks, all their pedals and a lot of beer. That whole section was put out with full-volume stacks, and Max and Kell getting progressively drunker and louder – it was a great experience!
How about onstage? What does your live rig and pedalboard look like?
We use a pretty simple rig in most situations. Kell runs her guitar through a home-modded DS-1 for clean tones and a RAT for the boost, normally splitting into a Marshall-style half stack and Fender combo. Max runs bass through an Xotic BB preamp straight to a Sansamp, generally into any Fender or Ampeg stack he can wrangle his hands on.
Do you have a go-to guitar at the moment?
Kelly: My J-Mascis signature Jazzmaster – it has such a massive sound, which I love. Offset guitars have always been my favourite to play because of the balance, and I feel like I look like a giant when I play Teles or Strats. It’s something I can’t really explain, except for feeling like my body and hands are ten times out of proportion! The bridge gives the guitar an awesome ring that you can’t find on most Fenders, and it’s been around the country with me enough times to be a great friend. It always plays well and never causes trouble – an absolute workhorse.
Max: My Fender P-Bass through and through. It's an absolute beast – it can survive any damage I cause to it onstage and has never once let me down. It's light enough to lug around onstage and, while it may not be the most unique noisemaker on the market, it seems to hit everything on the nose no matter what we’re trying to play. I’ve popped some heavier pickups in it to boost the output, but that’s about it. I’ve never felt the need to fuss too much over it.
Later this month, you’ve got this enormous national tour with the babes in Skegss. What are you most excited to get up to on the road?
We've toured with Skegss in the past, so most of all, I think we're all super excited just to catch up with our old mates. It's such a crazy opportunity for us to get out there and play the biggest stages of our career, but there’s also the ridiculous and fun things that can always pop up on tour; little day trips to a small-town pub, saving fans while Toby swings around his bass, or visiting Johnny's parents' property out on the lakes – you never know what's going to happen.
How do you all keep yourselves from hating each other’s guts when you’re stuck together 24/7 on tour?
[Laughs] We're still trying to figure that one out. As much as we all love each other, touring really can have a way of making you despise your best mates. It’s almost amazing – it brings us closer with love and hatred all at once.
Wollongong is, without a doubt, the true capital of Australia when it comes to great music. How is it that pretty much every band from the Gong is perfect? What is your secret!?
We think the secret is really the people themselves. Wollongong has a thriving scene of people who interact, work hard and care about each other, and that's really what it boils down to. So many grassroots teams such as Yours & Owls, stores like Music Farmers and venues like the Rad Bar have become crucial parts of the scene, working alongside bands from Gong and elsewhere to build a name and a culture for the place. It's not quite something you can really pin down – it comes from the dedication and love of the people involved.
Anything else you wanna say to the readers of Australian Guitar?
Pat more dogs! Respect and love one another! Bring back Snub TV! End lockout laws in Sydney! Never underestimate anyone’s ability! Loud amps save lives!
Friday June 21st - Metropolis, Fremantle WA
Thursday July 4th - Thebarton Theatre, Adelaide SA
Saturday July 6th - Enmore Theatre, Sydney NSW
Saturday July 13th - Forum Theatre, Melbourne VIC
Saturday July 27th - Fortitude Music Hall, Brisbane QLD
All dates supporting Skegss.
Tickets on sale via skegss.com