• Radio Monash Journalism

Tall Relatives Interview: A guide to an enigma

Written by David Paicu.

Is there anything more punk than a mime?

In a world filled with people obsessed with reality, the professional mime pulls himself into his own reality and attempts to show the world what he sees. The same can be said for Tall Relatives. With a zeal for establishing a wholly unique experience that is accepting of people with the quest of establishing a freeing space for all.

Built of a group of characters in Dan Blitzman, the infamous @millkman, Juan Rodriguez Sandoval, guitarist extraordinaire and conceptual genius, Alice D, bassist extraordinaire, and Flynn Ord, the ferocious drummer, Tall Relatives are looking to stake their claim in the Melbourne music scene. Moving away from their archaic and primal sounds, they want to create music that speaks to emotion and delivers its audience to a space free of judgement.

Eager to unleash their thoughts, Dan and Juan took the time to delve into conversation with Radio Monash. And a conversation was had, and the remnants of that discussion about the explosion of sonic exploration and what punk really is, was gathered, distilled and poured out into an interview.

How’ve you guys been during lockdown, quarantine and shit?

JD: "We’ve been pretty good. For me, I’ve had this massive news that’s occurred where I’m now actually a dad."

Oh, shit, congratulations.

JD: "It’s really just a lot of change. When you put that into perspective with isolation and what has happened, it has pulled everything into one clusterfuck. It’s been quite reflective and helped put things in perspective and in a way that has been helpful. It has given me a grounding and footing for interpreting the next steps that are for me in my artistic career. In the band’s point of view, it makes me consider where we are taking this band and how can we take it to the next level.

One of the things that I’ve been talking to Dan about is that I have this vision where I want my daughter - she’s going to be a girl by the way - to be able to come and check out a Tall Relatives gig. Even with the headphones on the side, just being able to say 'check this out'.

I would love for her to grow up in this new wave of anything that survives the epidemic. Whatever that sound is. I think it is going to be amazing. I want her to experience that and I want her to experience and see that side of our artistic careers. I guess in short terms it’s been an interesting period, but we’ve been doing pretty well."

That’s fuckin' sick, how about you Dan?

D: "Honestly, the craziest fucking year of my entire life, I don’t know if you can swear, but honestly from a meditative perspective I’ve been meditating every day."

Dan’s mum walks in and he pursues an avid conversation in Spanish about dinner, food and what it really means to be a creative in a post-pandemic world.

JD: "Tell your mum I love her."

With that being said we continued, renewed by the maternal wisdom we had recieved.

D: "It’s been a difficult year mentally. It hasn’t been a bad year for social stuff. I was talking to my mum today that when we look back on this year I’m going to say to myself - first, how’d I produce that much art? And also, what happened to my old circle of friends and where’d I get this new circle of friends from? It’s all been done in a mixture of online and in person, locally.

It’s changed every aspect about me, from how I go about things to how I deal with my own mental health. Everything is a completely new type of thing. I really do have a completely new and interesting person to show to people and I reckon mum will definitely be proud.

Some people tell me that they are bored - how the fuck can you be bored? I don’t have enough time in the day to do the shit I need to do. I need to get shit done. I need to meet people, exercise, mediate and make two pieces of art. By the time it’s all said and done, it’s time to get back into the normal world, or at least ready for the stuff we are experiencing here in Melbourne."

So how did you guys even end up meeting in the first place? How did the band start and evolve into what it is today?

D: "I met Flynn at a party, we were 'scouting drummers'. He was the second drummer we ended up getting from that party. He was the one that stuck around and essentially the one that we really wanted."

JD: "I was there at the first Tall Relatives gig at the Untz Untz Bar, because Flynn told me you guys were playing a show and I was like 'fuck yeah'. Dan was like 'thank you for coming' then he gave us Ferrero Rocher. I didn’t know who he was, but I thought it was sick.

I then remember I went and saw them a couple other times. We then went and saw them again in Revolvers Upstairs. They played a cover of Wonderwall. I was saying hi to Flynn there and then Dan comes up to me and is like ‘yo, you speak Spanish?’ I was like ‘yeah I do’, then we started speaking Spanish. He’s like ‘I’m Dan by the way' and I’m like 'I know who you are, man’.

D: "When we played Revs, I had my dad come and see us play shit. We played Revs like five times.

"Revs is the place where you meet your future wife and, in this case, your future band mates."

JD: "That’s how we met. Towards the end of 2018, they played at Unify and we were all really good mates and knew each other really well."

"Then Shawsy just sent me a message alongside Flynn saying 'dude could you please step in for this one gig?' ... we had a chat with the guys and I essentially stepped in to play for the band during that show. There was then a gig at the Tote in Bendigo and they were like, 'can you play for this as well?'.

I essentially learned the whole Tall Relatives catalogue in the span of ten days and two rehearsals. From there Flynn came up to me and said if you’d like to make this a thing we would love to have you. I said 'ok let’s see what happens' and that’s how we became a unit."

D: "There’s no real documentation of all the souls that have come and gone from Tall Relatives. People assume it went from stage one to stage two. In reality we have probably been through, from beginning to end, probably about seven people. Me and Flynn have been the constant ones. That being said Flynn isn’t even part of the first iteration of the band."

"The thing about punk is that it isn’t a specific sound or a specific look. It’s breaking down what came before and giving the audience that urge to come and see what comes out of the raw emotion of the shows. It is meant to defy convention."

You guys have that whole punk aesthetic in your sound and live performances - where did that originate from?

D: "The logo itself is used because you can know what it is based on imagery alone, as opposed to using lettering to spell out our band name. When I went to see Psychedelic Porn Crumpets I remember some people in the crowd actually knew what it was without having seen us before. Both the crowd and the singer commented on the shirt because the logo stands out as an icon on its own. We tried to put that logo in people’s heads, so they know who we are.

The punk aesthetic, the cover, and music have a certain DIY feel. People just get the punk vibes from the shows. People get most of what they know from the shows. That’s what we’ve been trying to do, give people the live experience without having to be at the gig. It’s the hardest thing we’ve been struggling with. We know how good the shows are. We want people to be able to experience that.

The shows we played this year were unreal. We played shows where they were all packed. It’s like when you’re playing Tony Hawk Pro Skater, it was like that but with people we were racking up our own kinds of points trying to create the best score and show what we could do in the process.

A show isn’t made by the performance, it helps. It also depends on what happens after the show. It’s a vibe and atmosphere. All those three shows pre-show and post-show, it was fantastic and then corona happened."

JD: "I was really excited about a gig we were going to play at Sir John’s actually, we had plans for it. One of the things I wanted to include in Tall Relatives was also the theatrics obviously. Nothing new but the way in which Slipknot and Limp Bizkit have their characters.

"We started to talk about perfecting this character that was the mime. The actor and the performance scrubbing the guitar and acting violently. We were making this entity and asking ourselves about how to make it happen."

D: "The mime thing was funny because in that gig in Revs, I had makeup that melted under the hot lights and looked like I had a hot fudge sundae for a face and I went to the bathrooms in Revs to wash it off. People just kept coming into the toilet cooked as seeing me there thinking ‘oh fuck’. I was like ‘nah it’s all good man just go for it’. It really feels like spiritually it was the start of something new. Even though I didn’t know it at the time."

Your aesthetic seems to advise your sound, it is quite forceful and aggressive, how exactly did it become the sonic monster it is today?

D: "I was going through a lot of shit and getting it out of my system as I progressed through the Melbourne music scene. I was really angry. I was going through a lot of shit and getting it out of my system as I progressed. I eventually became quite decent in learning to drum and the vocals.

As that progressed, I started to delve into New Wave vibes and everything to see how that would work. There’s quite a lot of New Wave stuff, actually, in terms of the guitar tones and the vocals. Which probably comes from the emotion. It’s slowly transitioned to be more upbeat and encouraging in a way.

That’s what the music is to me now. It transitioned from a dark period in the space of one or two months. I wanted to try and change the way the audience responds to the music so that they can reciprocate the emotion we put into our music."

So you guys want to create something from the audience, you want them to feed off it and give the same amount of energy back to you?

JD: "One of the approaches - especially with some writing - that Dan and I take into account especially with riffs is where can people really go off and get that rush of emotion. Which bits can make them dance or mosh with each other or how can we make it into a chant or something."

D: "Obviously, we’ve never planned a specific mood for a set. If you have a speech already prepared, you’ve ruined the essence of punk. The thing about punk is that it isn’t a specific sound or a specific look. It’s breaking down what came before and giving the audience that urge to come and see what comes out of the raw emotion of the shows. It is meant to defy convention. There’s never been a time where we say 'now I want to do this' or 'now I want to do that'.

We want people to express themselves and give them the chance to give to the rest of our audience in the same way we give to them. It’s a cohesive group experience, a safe space where if you want to dance you can and if you don’t that’s fine, but just getting out there and putting yourself out there creates those unique experiences. From a people stand-point, it’s a safe place for you to express yourself."

It sounds like your music is based less on the inspirations of the band, and more on the experience you can create for the audience. Is that what you’re saying?

D: "I don’t have a lot of sonic influences on guitar for tall relatives songs A) because I usually throw it on the ground and focus on performance but B) because I was learning as I went. I literally learnt guitar while I played shows, so from an instrumental perspective, my way of playing in the band was more impulsive and my own.

I wrote a lot of the songs especially in the beginning. That was just me picking up a guitar and trying to learn how to play and access my emotions through it. The vocals have always had an impact on me in every band that I listen to. I used to listen to a lot of Dead Weather and Jack White, those raspier sounds because that was what I wanted to have. I came from a place where I watched Australian Idol and thought can I do that? I know I can’t, but I still want to. I then started looking into all these people, even John Frusciante, all these people gave me that confidence to approach it.

Now I’m just aiming to refine it. From a sonic perspective, the inspirations are few and far between, but from a performance place we are trying to change the way that people go to shows."

JD: "One of the things that the new music has is it still has that Tall Relatives feel to it. That personality trait that still aligns it all is found in there. The new look is almost a bit schizophrenic but in a good way. One of the things I’ve been really into is Daughters and their approach with 'You Won’t Get What You Want' - that’s the energy and ethos that our whole new sound hopes to embody.

It really is where we draw the line between pre-'Ice Age' Tall Relatives and post-'Ice Age' Tall relatives. It has occurred through isolation that change in understanding. We had gained our footing and pace with the gigs before lockdown as a band with the chemistry, all together we were working well. Now we are like 'shit, what do we do?'. So this whole idea - that you’ll hopefully one day hear - is basically a mirroring or echoing of that."

When people come to your live shows after this whole lockdown experience, what exactly should they expect?

JD: "It would be a private lap dance.

Again, I don’t think we can give too much away because we’ve been going back and forth about it as far as what the vision actually is. We are not trying to reinvent ourselves per se. We are doing the same thing, just we are approaching it differently. The moment you step through the doors of wherever we are playing - whether it’s the Sir Johns or fucking Rod Laver Arena - one thing we promise is that you’ll walk and out with your life completely changed. This is starting to sound like one of those self-help forums."

So, you’re like an A.A. meeting in the form of music, in some regard?

JD: "Yeah, but with violent and aggressive music. The energy will still be, if not the same, then definitely a lot higher. It will be intense. Theatrics will definitely be displayed as well. The whole character thing that we had with the mime, a lot of people really digged it. I think it wasn’t until a few days ago one of our friends posted something about the mimes we did, and it’s just interesting that people remembered that detail made me realise people enjoyed that presence.

People have heard versions of some of the material we are planning on releasing, but we are creating them in a completely new way both in a sonic and structural perspective. The entire point is to come into the gig and come out at the end feeling like you could feel comfortable enough to do things that you haven’t done before, like mosh with random people."

With that being said, what would you say your aims for the future are? What are you planning on moving onto and creating for your audience? And when do you reckon it’ll be coming out?

D: "We can’t decide whether we want to release two singles back to back or one single and then an EP. The idea is not to do what we did with 'Ice Age'. Basically, we want to release music from a strategic point of view. There’s a lot of local bands who have done that that I admire. I think that would be the best way to move forward. It has to be of a production quality that we hadn’t previously reached, it has to be better. We want to do it sometime around the October ball park for the single and around November for an EP.

In terms of what people can come to expect now from our shows, I have been thinking about how it will be when we go back, and I reckon it’s going to be different. The level of excitement that I have to go back and perform is increased immensely. What it meant to me to perform as an outlet for expression I miss dearly. I will definitely be skyrocketing off the walls for sure, for anyone who wants to see that… well so do I."

JD: "We want to create a whole new set of branding and a whole new set of work. We want to put that out on the socials, then in November or if you’re lucky for Christmas Santa will give you a whole new Tall Relatives EP you didn’t ask for, but we are going to give it to you any way.

Who knows, maybe Dan will crawl down the chimney and say here’s your fuckin' Tall Relatives EP. Maybe even hand out when people go to get their vaccines.

I want to double on creating a space that people will feel comfortable to come back to. I think we will be working very hard on that. We want to reconstruct the community that is already there. The music scene in Melbourne is very strong and people are keen on getting involved and going out and listening to music live again. People are going to come out and just want to buy tickets and that’s the thing people need to know- JUST SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SCENE PLEASE."

D: "We have had times where we considered disbanding, but through some pure miracle we’ve managed to pull our heads out of our asses and we’ve got some good material coming out soon. The fan base for Tall Relatives is so loyal and we appreciate that, so we want to make something they’ll enjoy.

The number of people that we have met during these different intervals and have followed us, we are so appreciative of. For that reason, we want to give back and give them a reason to be giving a fuck, too."

JD: "If I could conclude, Tall Relatives attitude and our punk aesthetic will always be there. I think that we are ready as a collective to try and take Tall Relatives to a professional level. With production and everything from new sounds to new gear everything will be used to make the songs sound absolutely phenomenal.

It’s only up from here. Unless you book us to play at your toilet - but even then, that toilet gig will be a hell of a gig."