MOD CON: A Chat With Erica Dunn on her Raucous New Release

Image: MOD CON by Kalindy Williams.

Author: Melody Menu

MOD CON’s debut LP begins with a bang. Distorted bass erupts into a flurry of staccato percussion and angular guitar lines that weave around Erica Dunn’s frenzied vocals. Aptly titled Modern Convenience, the record is suitably apocalyptic: occupying a space between the ease offered by contemporary life, and the destruction it inevitably brings to the planet.

Singer and guitarist Erica Dunn, also of Tropical Fuck Storm and Harmony fame, is forthright, personable and quick to shed some light on the album. ‘I’ve been joking about how the album is a melting pot of questions about the end of the modern world. We were laughing the other day because I think most of the songs are about the apocalypse.’ All jokes aside, the album’s frenetic portrayal of the modern world and sheer urgency raises genuine concerns, with contemplations on the grief, terror and suffering self-inflicted on the globe by the human race.

‘It’s also how you engage with it and some of the side effects of it: facing anxiety, facing what it is to be human, facing choices, a lot of it reflects on those themes. What we’re taking for granted; what are your privileges; what are you destroying; what are we creating.’

Born out of Dunn’s original solo project Palm Springs, and featuring the same members –bassist Sara Retallick of Golden Syrup and percussion extraordinaire Raquel Solier of Various Asses – MOD CON has an entirely different feel to the country twang and desert hues of Palm Springs, yet shares the same raw power and skilful arrangements of the former. Dunn explains the creative give-and-take that occurred from the initial project.

‘Raquel and I have played together for a long time, and I was playing as Palm Springs solo. Then she joined me on drums – and Sara for our very last event came on board playing bass. We were pretty much doing iterations of those original solo songs that I had been playing. So when the opportunity came up for us to write together as a three-piece, something different happened. It was a lot easier to write in this new songwriting style and collaborating and it just became a whole lot more raucous and quite different to the original Palm Springs songwriting.’

Adding that she still plays as Palm Springs as a solo artist, Dunn feels as though she has drawn a clear line in the sand between the two projects, having recorded an album for each. ‘MOD CON has just become a project that is the three of us contributing and writing and it’s exciting and really fun. It was a weird time because we thought we could put this record out as Palm Springs and we were like ‘nah, it doesn’t sound like that – it’s a whole new thing.’ So it was sort of a big decision, but it was easy in another way because it was very clearly different.’

The three-piece formula clearly works, yielding a dynamic and explosive sound. The individual elements of guitar, bass and drums interlock and intersperse, at times veering to the side, and at times hurtling together to meet in the middle, while always sounding cohesive and poised. For Dunn, this was no accident. ‘I did a lot of hours in the studio nutting out how exactly all of those parts would be put together. It was a really fun time. Because the project was new and we cottoned on quite quickly that it would be something different, there was a lot of space to explore.’ This allowed her to experiment with guitar lines over a tight and energetic rhythm section, a way she hadn’t previously written music before.

Recording with TFS bandmate Gareth Liddiard at his home in rural Victoria provided the ideal creative setting: a heady mix of cabin fever, distraction from everyday life, and watching the stars at night. ‘Gaz is a great person to chat with about any kind of music making and style of music, and was the logical person to ask to record. He lives out in the bush and just has a lot of gear set up. For us, it was a really comfortable place to come and record. All three of us, Raquel, Sara and I have all been there before, and it’s a lovely place to get a bit isolated and sink your teeth into a project when you’re recording out here. Gaz gave very measured, really great feedback – letting the band just document what it’s doing but also injecting good ideas at crucial points as well. It was dreamy and allowed us to really focus.’

The ensuing energy and urgency of the record is no surprise considering Dunn’s other projects. Elements of the tender catharsis of Harmony can be found on the album, as can the abrasive assault on the senses that is Tropical Fuck Storm, the debut album of which will be out next month. With three albums in the can – MOD CON, Palm Springs and TFS, Dunn has found strength and resilience in her productivity.

‘It has been really busy – I’ve recorded three new records last year which, for me, is a record. And they’re all coming out in close proximity.’

‘Sometimes it’s a total head explosion trying to get dates to work [but] at the moment I haven’t done anything real bad, like I haven’t booked a gig on the same night or anything – I’m managing. But it’s also really great watching us get the ball rolling with being creative and thinking about making music, it’s just lead me to having more energy rather than less.’

Among other things, the album shows off Dunn’s vocal range and flair for storytelling. From rapid, razor-edged bursts of ‘Tell Me Twice’, to the more meditative ‘Bad Time At The Hilton’, her vocals complement each varied mood and theme. Dunn tells me that she is ‘enamoured by oral history and storytelling in terms of sitting down and having a chat and really illuminating feelings’, and nowhere on the album is this more pronounced than the album closer, ‘Get In Front Of Me, Satan.’

This slow-burning epic foregrounds a proposed deal with the devil, as the protagonist tenderly contemplates her options. Dunn relates that many people confuse it for a love song, as some of the lyrics could be considered to be addressing a lover, but in essence, it signals the end of the narrative with hope for the future. As the protagonist considers all that will be left behind, Dunn herself finds ease in the creative processing of the modern world’s endless issues and inconveniences, to the sound of forgiving strings and reverb.

Friday April 20, The Tote Hotel, Melbourne
Friday April 27, The Bearded Lady, Brisbane
Saturday April 28, The Red Rattler, Sydney
Available digitally and on CD/LP

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