Written by Campbell Gray.
Meg and Jack White may still be divorced, but My Safe Word is Murder’s unholy union is here to fill that hole with a raw concoction of fuzzy blues and punk swagger.
Any denizens of Melbourne’s underground rock scene should be aware of Lazerlips, who have graced our stages over the last couple years with their blend of grunge and garage revival. My Safe Word is Murder is the lovechild of Lazerlips and frontwoman Grace Whieldon (who some may recognise from Flaura), who promises to get up close and personal with her charisma and stage presence which swings somewhere between James Brown and Trent Reznor.
My Safe Word Is Murder have been incredibly busy for such a young band. The trio - Luke Pender on guitar, Will Pain on drums, and Grace Whieldon on vocals - formed at the beginning of 2020, released their self-titled debut single in January, and have played a number of successful gigs including St. Kilda Fest where they drew the attention of both a crowd and TV cameras, making it onto Channel Seven and Nine's coverage of the festival.
They haven’t slowed down. Despite the challenges of lockdown, they released yet another single on Halloween with plans for a full length project on the horizon.
This latest single, 'Little Doll', shows the band in all their strengths. A step up from their debut, it captures the energy and intensity we can expect from MSWIM but in a shinier and more sophisticated package than we’ve heard of them yet. A rollercoaster of only two-and-a-half minutes, it’ll leave you wanting more - and fortunately, more is not too far off, according to the band.
Radio Monash had the pleasure of chatting with the band about their formation, their inspirations, and some of their favourite local bands.
My Safe Word is Murder formed out of two groups, Lazerlips and Flaura. How did this come about, and how long have you been playing together?
Grace: “I was playing with Flaura for a few years, from when I was like 16 to 18. I think there were six of us at the last moment together, and we were all really, quite talented musicians, but we all had different aspirations and different genres that we wanted to do, and it was kind of a battle of putting it together. The gelling of the band wasn't happening any more and I really wanted to be in a group where I felt like I could express myself and everyone else could express themselves and we’ll find that happy medium. I wasn’t able to get that in Flaura.
Then I was contacted by St Kilda Festival. They wanted me to play in 2020, and I didn’t know if Flaura was strong enough to play. I felt like that was my first big step of being seen and getting noticed, and I wanted a band that was strong and connected behind me. And so, basically, I was booked by Lazerlips’ old manager to do a gig with them them and I saw them them play. I was really inspired by how in tune Luke and Will were together, how they could just look at each other and know what parts they were going into and they way that they wrote songs was just so much quicker, and seamless. I aspired to have something like that, so I started plotting how I was going to steal them and put them in my own band.
I asked Luke and Will if they would catch up with me and have a jam session. We had a jam session and we wrote two songs in one session, and I was almost crying like ‘Oh my god, it would take me months to write these songs with my last group’ - which is none of their fault. It’s just the gel wasn’t there and we wanted to do different things. But these two really understood me and I understood them and they were able to let me connect with them in the way they connect with each other. Will was really cool, he was really chill, he was like ‘Yeah, I’ll play with you’. I had to work a bit of magic to get Luke. He was kind of like ‘Hmm, I don't know about that, I wanna do Lazerlips, Lazerlips is my thing and I dunno if I have time for two bands.’ Then, I think he was impressed with how easily we wrote songs and with the songs we wrote, he was happy with the quality of the songs we were writing. Now, it’s just like, clicking back, back, and we all understand each other.”
Will: “Pew, pew, pew.”
G: “Pew, pew. It’s really, really cool how connected we are as a band and we’re also best friends. So, we’ve been together since like December of last year was when I got them to officially be in a relationship with me (laughs). And we’ve been together ever since! It was St Kilda Festival that brought us together and we just stayed together. That’s where MSWIM is right now.”
For people who are potentially fans of both Flaura and Lazerlips, how much of the sound of those bands are we going to be hearing with My Safe Word Is Murder?
G: “I don’t think there’s any Flaura in My Safe Word Is Murder. I think the only takeover would be in my lyricism, because I wrote all the lyrics. All of the songwriting from Flaura was me and then I would take all the lyrics and bare chord structures that I had. Then Nick and Josh would do the guitar parts and Alex would come in and do drums. So, they would bring the song together and the music together - but in saying that I didn’t take any of that over to My Safe Word Is Murder, and I decided I wasn’t going to redo any of the songs. I felt like Flaura and I did that together and I wanted to do something completely different."
W: “I just was gonna say the drums are pretty- I guess, kind of similar in both [Lazerlips and My Safe Word is Murder]. I dunno. I guess Lazerlips seems a little more punky. I mean, the beats are pretty similar, I would say. It’s kind of like simple, fast goodness.”
L: “The drums are definitely quite similar. I guess if there is a bit of a crossover with riffs or melodic motifs, that’s just cause… it’s like with Grace’s lyrics, it’s like that’s just what comes out, you know?”
So, what are you guys trying to do differently with My Safe Word Is Murder?
G: “I think from what we began as it was like ‘Okay, cool. We are some musicians that get along well and we can write songs’ and we kinda rushed out our first single, but we hadn’t really found our sound. Now, I think we are in the process of finding our sound and over this lockdown period we’ve been writing heavily and going back and forth. I think, for My Safe Word is Murder, people can expect it to be a lot heavier and can expect it to move away from the grungey punk. We’re getting into a more sophisticated, darker sound. Definitely with my lyricismm and I’ve been exploring how to scream, and not just scream rough and raggedly in live sets, I’m learning how to do it properly, and how to work it into songs so it has that crazy impact that I’ve really been wanting to do. So, I think we’ve been finding our sound in this lockdown period, it's punchier and it’s darker and it’s heavier."
L: “I think when we started it definitely sounded a bit more garage, classic rock, kinda throwback. A bit of a retro sound in that way. But, yeah, I’d say it's evolved into a more sophisticated sound, even modem maybe. There's some Jack White in there. There is some Misfits in there, but there’s also some Spanish style, harmonic minor, kinda sexy chords, which works really well with Grace’s vocals.”
G: “And the songs we’ve been writing - that eventually we will release as our big project that we’ve been working on - every song’s different so far. It’s not like one set genre, everything’s different and we’re really pushing ourselves as musicians to do better and work harder and create better and better songs. So people can expect a lot, it’s not a half-arsed project that we’re gonna release, it’s gonna be pretty huge.”
What is the writing process for you? Luke already touched on some influences but, for you, Grace - who inspires you lyrically?
G: "Lyrically, Nick Cave really inspires me. I really like to work outside the structures that are popular. Sometimes I write songs and they don’t have choruses, sometimes I write songs and it’s just one fluid thought. I think it’s really cool to challenge the things we’re told are popular and we should do. Otherwise, obviously, Marilyn Manson really inspires me with his sound. July Talk, a Canadian band, they inspire me with their harmonies - which people can also expect on our project, Luke and I will be singing a lot. I think with my lyric writing process, Fleetwood Mac and Nick Cave really, really inspire me with the way they write songs and avoid using the same structure and really design a song based on what that song’s about and the story being told, rather than trying to fit it into a pop ballad kinda thing, or a rock ballad kinda thing.
- And Jack White, sorry!”
W: “I was waiting for that.”
L: “Yeah, me and Grace both love Jack White. And I’m such a big fan, knowing that she likes it, I can kind of Jack-White-it-up and know that she’ll be into it.”
Can you tell me about the new single you released on Halloween, and your big project?
G: “'Little Doll' has a pretty cool story. It’s basically about me and I’m talking about myself as being perceived as an object and being seen as small. It’s about the historical idea that women can be owned and that men can have ownership over them and it’s kind me taking my power back. It’s like ‘Yeah, you perceive me as a little doll but I will fuck you up.’ That’s the running storyline of the song. And there’s some really cool lyrics in there and Luke’s singing on it as well. It’s quite a chaotic song, but also you can listen to it and dance to it and bang heads to it. I think it’s really cool and people will respond to it, it’s a massive step up from our first single. We wrote and recorded it in lockdown, so I did the vocals in my room and then I sent it off to Macedon to the boys.”
W: “Woo! Sent it off to regional!”
G: “To regional Victoria where everything’s happening and they worked on it and we sent it back and forth and we were like ‘Yeah, let’s release this’. We thought, why not do it on Halloween, that’ll be fun.
With our project, we are looking at an album. We’re not exact on a date, but we’re thinking the end of this year or beginning of this year there will be an MSWIM album, which will be absolutely chaotic and just something else. We’re writing very quick and recording very quick and going back and forth and the process is just very fluent between us, so we’ll definitely have the material. It’s just about the finding right time, we feel, to release it to everyone”
Earlier you spoke about St Kilda Fest. What that experience was like? Have any of you played a gig that big before, and how did you get on TV? Was that meant to happen, or was it an accident?
L: "We haven’t played anything that big before. That was a first."
G: “That was one of the most chaotic experiences of my life. Preparing for that gig was just insane, and then when we got there it was like ‘Wow, we’re a part of this. This amazing event that has such a rich history in the Victorian music scene’. It was such a privilege for us all to be there and for us to be such a new band and to be playing in that festival.
Then, the news thing - we were on Channel Seven and Channel Nine, and I’m not sure why they started filming our set. I feel like our set was probably the least PC set during that day, maybe. There was a lot of old 80s bands and singer-songwriter stuff, and then there was just us. Maybe that’s why they filmed us, because we stood out. They just saw this wacko tattooed chick with long red hair and were like ‘Yeah, that’ll do.’
But we didn’t know they were in the crowd. It was one of those experiences that musicians who play big stages talk about. It’s like, you don’t see people, you know people are there but you just don’t see them. I was running on such an adrenaline high, I thought I was having like ten anxiety attacks and a heart attack all at once. I was just like, ‘Push out the lyrics’. There were some crazy stage malfunctions too which just added to the anxiety of the event. But everyone just had really positive feedback to us about our performance. There were so many international people that still follow me on Instagram now and they’re like ‘ Yeah, you were the best’. And I was like, ’I don’t even know these people were in the crowd.’ It was just really amazing. Then, I think after our set we were just completely buzzing, just an adrenaline high, I felt like it wasn’t real, like a fever dream. Then we were on the beach and our bassist, who was playing with us at the time, he got obliterated drunk so we were trying to hide him from the police and my grandma was calling me and people were calling me and texting me like ‘You’re on the news! You’re on the news!’ It just didn’t feel real.”
W: “It’s so crazy to think that the year before, when I went, I saw DZ Deathrays. I don’t think I saw any other bands, I just rocked up late. It was like, ‘Holy shit!’. I mean, it’s a different stage or whatever, but I was like, ‘Fuck, DZ Deathrays played here last year’. And we were associated with that, I don’t know. It’s just crazy to think that I’ve played the same festival DZ Deathrays have played at. I made it! I can retire.”
G: “Yeah, I feel like it was a big thing, us being small musicians. I was only 19, I’m almost 20 and the boys were 20 or 21. So it was like we are very young and just really privileged we’re very grateful to have that opportunity and I think a lot more smaller bands should have that opportunity to play at festivals like that too. So hopefully that can happen in the future. Yeah, that was a surreal experience. It was very crazy.”
L: “Was that our second show?”
G: “That was like our second or third show. I think we played Jizzfest and then we played Boogieman Bar then we played St Kilda Fest, so that was our third.”
W: “Oh Yeah, Jizzfest!”
G: “Yeah, that was our first festival, Jizzfest.”
Considering COVID has shut down the music scene recently and the importance of supporting local artists, are there any bands or artists that you guys have seen, heard, played with that you’re particular fans of, or that you’d like to work with in the future?
G: “Yeah we have heaps. Boys? Which ones are you gonna talk about?”
W: “Ah, that’s tough.”
G: “I’m gonna start, you guys are being annoying. We definitely wanna work with Earl Grey’s Breakfast Tea, we love them. I also really like the Nicoteenagers, they’re doing some cool stuff. I really like Maggie Alley, I’d really like to work with her. Her and I have already talked about playing together. I really, really love her voice.”
W: “The Bad Bad Randys!”
G: “I wouldn’t mind playing with Bruiser. Yeah Bad Randys, Tall Relatives. They all have really lovely band members some of us are friends with.”
W: “I reckon we’d go well with like Lemon Days or something too. That’d be cool. Lazerlips have played with Lemon Days, they were pretty sick. They’re releasing new music soon actually, shout out.”
G: “I’d wanna do a gig with prerock. and Bruiser. I feel like that would be really funny. It’d be so chaotic. You guys would be like chaos noise and then there’s just me.
There’s definitely more bands. I’d like to open for Amyl and the Sniffers.”
W: “I reckon Clowns would b-”
G: “Oh, Dude! Garlic Nun! I love Garlic Nun. The boys in Garlic Nun are so lovely and really really kind guys and we are definitely gonna play a gig with them when corona opens and that’s gonna be fucking chaotic. I’m gonna really have to amp up my stage presence to play before or after the Nun himself, oh my god. I really am excited to go 100km/h when we are able to play safely. I’m prepared and read to just drop my entire guard and go, just go.”
W: “Garlic Nun would be sick. I remember the first experience I had with Garlic Nun, I’d never listened to their music before and I was about to go see them live because a mate told me about them, and then I had their butt in my face. I was like right up - and he has not very much clothing when they play live - I was right up the front and I was like, ‘What am I getting myself into?!’. But yeah, it was super sick.”
G: “We’ll play with anyone. We’re not elitists, we’ll play with anyone. It’s all about supporting each other.
I don’t know if he remembers but I had a spiritual experience with the Nun himself. We were at some little bar in Brunswick and he was playing, then he came off and I think Rat Head was playing after them and he was sitting on a table and I was sitting at a seat just behind the table and I see the table slowly tilting and I’m like ‘He has no fucking idea he’s about to fall.’ Just as he was about to fall I stopped the table with my foot and we just, like, made eye contact and it was a spiritual experience."
Is there anything you wanna plug before you go?
G: “Yeah, follow us on Instagram @mysafewordismurder and follow all of us on our Instagrams - Grace:@thatonewickedgirl, Luke:@penderzap, Will:@will.pain_
W: “And the WillyP podcast - @thewillyp_podcast