These were the parameters: two people, no loops, no dreadlocks, few rehearsals. Smack bang in the middle of ‘hipster’ and homeless, The Barren Spinsters look like the plot of Pretty Woman gone wrong. The band is based in Canberra and consists of Brendon Houlahan (Vocal/Guitar) and Matt Tennant (Vocals /Drums). Their debut album, Ten Steps to Cynical Thinking is out now and both Brendon and Matt answer some questions for Hi Fi Way about the journey so far.
How has the build-up been leading up to the release of your debut album Ten Steps To Cynical Thinking?
Matt: It’s definitely been a lesson in patience, that’s for sure. We really tried to pace out the release and throw out some singles and music videos first. Try and do it properly, like a real band would!
Brendon: It’s felt kind of like preparing a child for their first day of school. Their lunch is packed, their uniform is ironed and we’re ready to drop them off a school, only to duck off to the pub for a few hours to decompress. Except that couple of beers turned into a year long bender.
Are you really Cynical Thinkers??
Brendon: Not really, I consider myself the eternal optimist with a healthy dose of cynicism.
Matt: I think we’ve both got a certain sense of…realistic expectations?…that can sometimes be misconstrued as cynicism. But we’re pretty happy-go-lucky fellas.
Was the process of making your album challenging as you thought? Brendon: It was way harder than I anticipated. Matt pushed me very hard (in a good way), and I’m super glad that he did too. The results are much better than what they would have been if I was left to my own devices.
Matt: Yeah, I put poor old Brendon through the ringer a bit. I vaguely remember giving him a few surprise slaps in the face before vocal takes to try and add some anger and urgency to the takes. If anything, it just added to Brendon’s hatred of me.
Sonically, how would describe your music?
Matt: We both grew up with pretty different musical influences, so I think that helps give us a bit of a mixed bag sound wise. It’s bluesy and rocky, with obnoxiously over the top drumming, and stage banter that would make Mitch Hedberg proud. Or embarrassed. Not sure.
Brendon: Stylistically speaking I feel that we cover a fair bit of ground, so we’re always using words like ‘ish’ and ‘kind of sounds like’. If we figure it out, we’ll let you know!
How did you all meet?
Brendon: Once upon a time there was this eccentric bloke called Kevin. Matt & I met virtually on stage playing in a covers band with Kev, who we’d also both just met.
Matt: It was a handshake, then a count off into Material Girl.
How did you come up with the name?
Brendon: It’s a bit of a call out to the awful way the media treated and scrutinised Julia Gillard during her time as our Prime Minister. It’s an archaic phrase, poorly used as an attempted insult. We thought we could hijack the phrase and make it mean something more positive. To us, the phrase ‘The Barren Spinsters’ is now associated with two dorky guys in cat shirts playing silly rock songs.
Who would you consider to be the biggest influence on your music and why?
Brendon: For me it’s probably John Fogerty. No mic, no problem. He just sang louder.
Matt: Guy Patterson from The Wonders. Song sucks? No problem. Just double time it.
Best piece of advice you have been given?
Matt: Mum always said ‘Say yes to every gig at least once, cos it will always lead to something else.’ Unfortunately, I originally heard it as ‘Say yes to everything at least once’, which led to a cheeky little heroin habit in high school. All good, kicked it like a champ.
Brendon: I find listening to how the crowed responded to your last song is kind of the best piece of advice. They’ll tell you if you’re doing something right, and they’re almost always spot on.
Do you write more songs than you need for an album and do you think you would revisit the leftovers?
Brendon: Not to sound like a tosser, but I’ve probably written more songs than I’ve had hot dinners. But just like hot dinners, not all of them are good and sometimes you want your money back. If we look down the back of the fridge, I’m sure there’s few we can heat up and get away with. Depends how desperate we get.
Has music always been a passion for you?
Brendon: Obsession more than passion is probably the easiest way to describe it. I honestly don’t know what I’d do without music, I can’t speak for Matt, but I’ve certainly got no ‘Plan B’ up my sleeve.
Matt: Yeah I’m with Chops over here. Except I’ve got myself a Plan B. Don’t know if you’ve heard of a little show called Married at First Sight, but it’s a pretty solid backup.
Are you looking to tour more broadly?
Brendon: Absolutely, would love to take this show on the road in the States or Europe. We have a few more goals to kick first, but I’m pretty sure we’ll get there.
What’s next for The Barren Spinsters?
Brendon: After a small yet very musically satisfying win the other day, Matt quipped “If you need me I’m off private jet shopping”. I thought that was pretty funny.
Matt: I meant ‘private bet shopping’. I lost all our money on the ponies. My bad.
Interview By Rob Lyon
Catch The Barren Spinsters on tour…