Image: Dumb Things – supplied.
Author: Melody Menu
‘Quintessentially Australian.’ It’s a term often bandied about in music journalism and press bios, used for genres as diverse as emo pop-punk, surf-rock and country. But it’s particularly applicable to bands such as Brisbane’s Dumb Things, with lyrics steeped in everyday Australiana, and guitar lines owing to a nostalgic indie guitar jangle from Brisbane greats The Go-Betweens or early Apartments. But for singer and guitarist Maddie Keinonen, it was a breed of 80s bands a little further afield that inspired her to first pick up a guitar at fourteen.
‘I was listening to a lot of 80s stuff when I was starting out. I got really into The Cure and Siouxsie and the Banshees, and more poppy stuff like Talking Heads.’ Equally important to her were 90s hits from a very different era of Triple J than we now know today. ‘I remember just playing on repeat my dad’s ‘Hottest 100 1997’. So many classics, like Nick Cave, The Prodigy, Silverchair, Cake.’ This love of music and the creative flamboyance of the 80s into the 90s lead to Maddie mucking around on her own, ‘trying to write songs, and not really getting anything together.’ That is, until she was asked to contribute some backing vocals to Dumb Things’ self-titled debut album. ‘I think towards the end of that process, they decided they wanted some female backing vocals. And James is a friend of mine, so he asked me to come and do that. I thought it was just going to be a once-off thing, but I ended up sticking around and I started writing songs as well.’
Maddie became a fully-fledged band member shortly after, joining singer and guitarists Adam Vincent and James Southey, drummer Pat Hill and bassist Andy Robinson, contributing songs and the gentle lead and backing vocals that complete their sound. She explains that Vincent, Southey and herself tend to write fairly collaboratively, which may lead to the seamless quality of their second album, Time Again. Aptly enough, the three have a tendency to write songs that relate to the passage of time, songs like ‘Waiting Out’, ‘Do It Again’, and the title song ‘Time Again.’
Here, Maddie lets us into a sort of collective joke of the band. ‘It’s hilarious for us, because the first album had a lot of references to time as well, in the lyrics. And we were sort of bringing in new songs and were like ‘oh no, we used the word ‘time’ in the lyrics again. Do we have a single song where we don’t say it?’ And it becomes like a challenge. I remember I wrote [a song] and I was really proud – it didn’t have any reference to ‘time.’ And then James stepped in for some backing vocals and said something about ‘always running late’ and I was like ‘no!’’
Time is also reflected in Dumb Things’ film clips, from the passing scenery of the sunny pop ‘Crash Barrier’ to the domesticity displayed in ‘Waiting Out.’ But the jewel in their musical crown is the film clip for single ‘Today Tonight’, their first ‘properly filmed video, not on an iPhone’. Filmed in an old community hall in Ipswich that hosts the Ipswich Arts Awards, the band play and hang out within a staple of Australian suburban life – the gorgeously kitsch community hall, interspliced with archival footage of Brisbane.
‘I remember going in for work, and seeing that awesome mural on the stage. And the colour scheme of the building, it’s just perfect. Everything is built to be photogenic. We were in the kitchen and we opened the cupboards and there was just floor-to-ceiling pastel-coloured crockery and really old tea pots. And the teaspoons were all souvenir teaspoons. It was really cool. One of the lovely older ladies who worked there said they were planning to do renovations soon, and I was kind of devastated to hear that, but I’m really glad we got to film it before that happened.’
This, too, is ‘quintessentially Australian’: music and art evocative of its setting, of community halls and streetscapes, or immaterial moments watching Channel 9 and blaming public transport for being late. All of it spent waiting for some other time, or some other place.
Upcoming Dumb Things Shows:
- Saturday November 23, The Tote, Melbourne with Go Get Mum and The Vovos. Info here.
- Sunday November 24, The Bridge Hotel, Castlemaine with Go Get Mum. Info here.
- Saturday November 30, The Bearded Lady, Brisbane with The Garbage & The Flowers. Info here.
- Sunday December 1, Sonic Sherpa, Brisbane. Info here.
- Friday December 13, The End, Brisbane with Loulou and A Country Practice. Info here.
- Saturday December 21, ‘We All Want To Ipswich Christmas Party’ at Goleby’s Basement, Ipswich with The Emmavilles. Info here.