INTERVIEW: Christian 'Twiggy' Carter (BALLOONS KILL BABIES)
At a glance, Brisbane post-rockers Balloons Kill Babies may conjure up images of crazed clowns attacking kids - but behind a rather distinct name are three gents combining powers to create some deeply absorbing tunes. Described as "huge and dark", there's something for everyone in their prog-tinged instrumental epics. And with a new record on the horizon as well as a single launch next week, the airwaves are set to get heaving. But before all that kicks off, guitarist Christian 'Twiggy' Carter took some time out to chat graffiti inspo, tour shenanigans, 90s pop - and a whole lot more...
TIANA: So, I feel straight up I'm asking the really obvious question...but I have to ask you about the band name. I did a whip around in my office and we all agreed it's probably a factual claim...
CHRISTIAN: It is! (laughs) It is factual, you can Google it and it's definitely true.
TIANA: I know you'd probably get asked it all the time, but what's the backstory there?
CHRISTIAN: Yeah, that's the common one. It's actually kind of a weird homage to a Brisbane graffiti artist that we've never met. Basically a few years ago I got out of hospital and I was walking down through South Bank cos I didn't have a ride and there was a giant graffiti art on this tunnel wall that was a baby getting hit in the head with a balloon. And we didn't have a name for the band at the time and the band wasn't really serious...all three of us were in different bands and we were just jamming together because we lived together and we were like "let's call it that!"...And from that all these people came up with meanings for the name, which I thought was cool. We've had all sorts of strange stuff thrown at us about how it means that the balloon is materialism and the baby is innocence. We had a bunch of fundamentalist Christians from America who thought we were like a pro-life advocacy group. And then they found out we were a band, so we got death threats from them! So it kind of flipped.
TIANA: Inspired by graffiti is kinda bad-ass...but getting death threats from Christians? That's the ultimate bad-ass!
CHRISTIAN: (laughs) At that point we were still a pretty young band, we were like "we've made it!"...Waiting for the Westboro Baptist church to picket us or something, like "yep, we've pissed off the right people!"
TIANA: You guys clearly have some specific influences and counterparts in the whole post-rock world, and a few seem to keep popping up, especially some key ones like sleepmakeswaves, Russian Circles, and I've heard Karnivool thrown around in there too. But did you guys have a mission plan from day one?
CHRISTIAN: Yes and no...we all grew up listening to Tool, so that was a pretty obvious influence, especially on our first EP. Karl and I are both from Mackay originally, and our old drummer Francis is from Mackay as well, and while I was down in Brisbane I discovered a band called 'God Is an Astronaut' who became a massive influence on us. And we'd all grown up listening to instrumental bands, but we hadn't really discovered like the Russian Circles, and the sleepmakeswaves, or if we had we hadn't got right into them yet. So when I heard Russian Circles I was like wow, every song is instrumental and it reminded me of my favourite band which was Nine Inch Nails. And they'd always done or two instrumental songs here and there. And in the other bands we were all in we'd been tooling around with, you know, seven minute songs that really only had about 45 seconds of vocals on them. And I guess all of us kept really struggling with writing a song like "here's the chorus, here's the verse, here's the chorus, here's the bridge"...we wanted to branch and do something that just felt more natural to the way that we play. So the progression of that was...well, let's get rid of the lyrics, cos half the time when we rehearse there's no vocalist around anyway - and let's just jam. The first EP and most of what's gonna be on this next record is pretty much all just free-jammed on the spot. In fact the title track of the next record was written in about 20-30 minutes. It's just sort of what came naturally to us. So I guess there was less of a mission statement going into it in terms of a sound, and more of do whatever your first reaction is. And then refine afterwards if you need to.
TIANA: I did find it really interesting listening to your stuff, and so many of those other bands, I don't sit there thinking "oh, there's no lyrics in this", you just get so absorbed in that soundscape.
CHRISTIAN: Thank you! That's the goal. With all of those bands, if people say "where are the vocals", they haven't done the job properly.
TIANA: Now Balloons Kill Babies have had a huge couple of years, you've had different variations of the band along the way...you had your debut EP 'Leviathan' and the follow up 'Prodromal', you've played pretty extensively with locals and some huge internationals...and to top it all off last year you were nominated for a Queensland Music Award. But what do you see as being your biggest success so far? Or do you feel the best is yet to come?
CHRISTIAN: Yeah, I still think there's something ahead of us. I guess one of the bigger ones was supporting The Ocean in 2015, and meeting Robin Staps, the brains behind the band, he gave us a lot of great advice and seemed to really dig our music and really cared about what we were doing. But other than that honestly, it was the Q Music Awards and being in 4zzz's Hot 100 in the same year.
TIANA: You were nominated at the Q Music Awards for 'Patches In The Sky' - that song was huge, who actually won that one?
CHRISTIAN: Caligula's Horse.
TIANA: Ahh. Yeah ok, that's fair. It would be hard to be mad about that one.
CHRISTIAN: Yeah, no one ever hears that they won and go "oh, really?" (laughs) And we're friends with the band as well so it was actually kind of a cool night just hanging out and partying and they won - it was kind of a win-win for everyone!
TIANA: And you've shared the stage with those guys in the past as well as plenty of others - but have you had any hilarious gig stories along the way?
CHRISTIAN: Oooo, well I've got a great story about a friend of ours. I probably shouldn't say the band name. But a great friend of ours, we were playing a show with them, and they had this song where the bassist just starts screaming into the mic. It was one of our headline shows, that's how it ties into us. So we'd been drinking beforehand because he's very intent on us all drinking, cos they're from Melbourne. And we hadn't seen each other in two months and apparently that was too long so we were doing shots pretty much from load-in to the time they played. And so he starts screaming into the mic and just threw up (laughs). Just absolutely projectile vomited off the side of the stage, and kept playing! It was the most rock and roll thing I'd ever seen.
TIANA: That is phenomenal. It's like the Exorcist comes to life on stage!
CHRISTIAN: It was ABSOLUTELY the Exorcist (laughs). There's a few others, I don't know if I should tell (laughs). They're too much. But all the main tour stories we have are just nearly being killed on the road basically! Driving through ice and being like "oh, we haven't slept for like 2 days and we've played shows and we've been drinking"...not while driving, obviously, because we're responsible...but when we were on the Patches tour we spent like two hours driving through snow and ice. We're from North Queensland, so it was a completely foreign experience for us, and obviously we're sleep deprived. But we lived to tell the tale!
TIANA: You guys recently dropped a new track 'Illuzia' and a video, and you mentioned there's a new record coming up - is it going to be an EP or an album up next?
CHRISTIAN: We're calling it an EP because it's 5 tracks, but it's like 34 minutes long!
TIANA: It's always that fine line between labeling it with those two words a lot of the time!
CHRISTIAN: Yeah, I mean everyone in the band has a different thought on it. I've got the old school, like "does it fit on a record?", like a vinyl. But, whatever. (laughs). So - it's an EP!
TIANA: And on this new stuff you've got Scott Davey on drums who's previously been with Three Tonne Deep and Dead Letter Circus. How has that changed the band dynamic?
CHRISTIAN: Yeah, Scott's elevated us to a whole new level really. Francis our old drummer and I have grown up together and we've been playing music since we first picked up instruments. But there was always this unspoken ability to jam, and he didn't want to keep going in the same direction we were going in, which was fine. But Scott's addition - well the first time he hit us up, he said, you know, "I really like the songs, I would just do it differently". We took that as a not interested, and then that afternoon he sent back like a plethora of videos of him going "this is all the different stuff that I would do", so within five hours he'd rewritten all of the songs. We didn't really have to change anything that we were doing, he just sort of came in and brought this whole new element and went "look, we could go left instead of right". And he's just an amazing drummer, and from that even just the work ethic has just picked up, we seem to get more done in half an hour than we did before. Which isn't a slight on our old drummer, but I just think that Scott kicked us into gear really quickly.
TIANA: It's always amazing how someone with that fresh outside perspective can really impact that momentum so quickly.
CHRISTIAN: Oh absolutely! We've been writing constantly, last night we worked on a new song and we just bashed it out in a couple of hours. I think Scott just feels a bit free to do his own thing in the band now, he really gets our whole philosophy behind making music and behind what we want the band to be, and he's really on board with it. So just having that enthusiasm and obviously that technical ability has just elevated everything we've done.
TIANA: Kicking back to your live stuff, I know you guys have shared the stage with a heap of legends like Voyager, obviously The Ocean as you mentioned earlier, and an old favourite of mine Hazards of Swimming Naked. But aside from some pretty amazing bands already, is there any dream band you'd love to tour with one day? Or are you just gonna take it as it comes?
CHRISTIAN: Personally I've got some, you know "dream" dream bands...I'd love to play with Nine Inch Nails, that would be amazing. But, you know, just take it as it comes really. There's so much great Australian music, let alone music in the world and everyone's busy at the moment, everyone's making great music, everyone's touring. Just being part of all of that is exciting to me.
TIANA: And just to wrap things up - do you have any sneaky songs or albums hiding on your phone or your Spotify that people would be surprised about? Any secret shames that you wouldn't necessarily admit to?
CHRISTIAN: (laughs) Oh, no I would totally admit to all of them! But they're absolutely...you would no expect it. I love Seal (laughs). Like I absolutely LOVE old-school Seal, and I love Michael Jackson. When we were on tour in 2015, we were on the road most of that year and we would get really sick of hearing guitars and just loud music, so we started listening to 90s pop music like All Saints and stuff like that. And also lots of doof techno, Itch-E and Scratch-E, Paul Mac's old project from like 1998...things like that! There's so much that you would not expect that we would listen to.
TIANA: Well I think it's healthy to have those different genres to escape into, otherwise you just listen to the same-old and everything starts to sound the same.
CHRISTIAN: Totally, and music's music at the end of the day, and all of us in the band we all agree there isn't one genre that we hate. We can always find like one band or one artist from any genre that is good. Music's just either good or bad, it doesn't matter if it's country or hip hop or metal, progressive, instrumental, post-vegan, whatever!
TIANA: I'll be so excited to see what you guys have coming up next! Hopefully you can take this show on the round and bring a bit of Balloons Kill Babies round the country.
CHRISTIAN: Yeah, we're definitely gonna be trying to get on the road as much as possible over the next twelve months.
TIANA: Epic. Hopefully there will be a All Saints cover or similar on the cards. Not even joking. I love it.
CHRISTIAN: (laughs) I'm not joking either! We were on tour in Sydney and our lighting guy got blown away that I knew all the words to Thong Song by Sisqo.
TIANA: That sounds like a total challenge for a 90s pop song lip sync battle.
CHRISTIAN: Totally. I'll totally take you on for that!
TIANA: Excellent. Thank you so much for your time.
CHRISTIAN: Thank you very much!
Balloons Kill Babies will be launching their new single 'Illuzia' in Brisbane on the 22nd of July, and keep an eye out for their upcoming EP. More info below:
BY TIANA SPETER