There’s this one parallel park I really want to tell you about. But before I do I want to assure you that this isn’t the leadup to a gory accident or some overdrawn metaphor employing the Motzart-esque use of a Mitsubishi Magna. It’s okay. It’s an overdrawn metaphor of a totally different kind. It’s about a park conducted during heavy lunch-hour traffic over the course of about two and a half minutes. Think, for a second, about how truly long that is in heavy traffic.
[Author’s Note: Especially outside the Warner Music office in Melbourne’s Wellington Street which possesses just the right kind of unhappy union of industry, recreation and residence that make most drivers’ dispositions start at ‘irritated’ and climb at the slightest irritation]
But what is magnetic about this park isn’t the traffic swinging in dangerous half-disk arcs around the parking car or the contorting faces and swatting palms inside the road’s motionless vehicles. It’s the expression the parker, a lady of maybe 50, is wearing while attempting (and reattempting) to install her car kerbside. Her expression isn’t so much relaxed as carefully deposited over the front of her skull. It’s still in the way that concrete is still after it has been poured, carefully raked and allowed to settle - almost impossible to tell if her calm is true oblivion or a perfect mask.
This question— the one of true oblivion or perfect mask—is the exact question I’m wondering about Perth psych-pop slackers, Hamjam.
“It’s very…very boomy…I can’t really hear…” Hamish Rahn, one half of Hamjam (the ‘Ham’) is croaking through the speakerphone. James Ireland (‘the Jam) is nowhere in earshot. I’m currently looming over some kind of professional conference call machine that is spidered over the elliptical, cornsilk surface of the central conference table. The room’s acoustics are more suited to quiet chatter or the recording of Medieval sacred music than a semi-shouted band interview, so I lower my voice and the volume on the phone-spider.
“Is James with you Hamish or is it just you?”
“It just me. James is, uh, in the shower.”
This isn’t a far cry from their usual working relationship, according to Hamish.
Their song ‘Love’, the drooling vintage psych gem now familiar to many in Australian music scene already, was the first song Rahn ever wrote. In fact all of Hamjam’s songs—flange-drunk and with reeling key lines bordering on liquefaction— are written by Rahn. And after he’s “scratch[ed] out a little thing with a drum machine and guitar or whatever and kind of slap[ped] them together” he’ll find James (who until this point has been playing in the multitude of other bands he plays in or is still in the shower) and “pretty much dump[s] it on his computer and say[s] ‘fix this’…”
And now the EP has, in the wake of the anticipation following ‘Love’, arrived.
“Yeah when Dan from Pilerats approached us to do this I never thought about it. I’d already given up on [these songs] and started doing other ones so for them to have a home is pretty cool.” I have plenty of time during the interview’s lengthened uncertainties and languorous pauses to think. Mostly I’m thinking about the ‘Is-it-true-calm-or-a-perfect-mask’ question from earlier while looking around the boardroom. My eyes drift to the northern wall, the room’s only non-glass surface, which is heavily encrusted with a monitor and two off-white filing cabinets. The filing cabinets occupy the northwest and northeast corners, making the boardroom table and it’s seven chairs look less like a light-bone coloured island and more like a creamy peninsula that has somehow broken free from the wall and come to rest in the middle of the room. The question of ‘true-calm-or-perfect-mask’ persists as Rahn enthusiastically summarises his morning activities: “I went to Centrelink to change some details…”
I still can’t work out if the extremity of Rahn’s near-catatonic state of chill is some thickly-laid-on rouse that Perth psych rock bands feel they have to lay on to preserve the slacker image that is so appealing to outside listeners. But as our conversation wears on, I begin to doubt it. I can no longer envisage Rahn in any other position than fully horizontal and his yawns roll steadily through our conversations, devouring entire words at a time and far too frequent to be faked. In fact I mapped the exactly time and approximate strength of each yawn (on a 0-5 scale), the resultant data you can find below. 10 (believable, I assure you) yawns in a 16.5 minute interview is, for me, pretty compelling evidence towards ‘true slacker’. But the interrogation continues.
A close cousin to the question of ‘true-oblivion-or-perfect-mask’ (slacker or faker) is the question of Perth as an exporter of psych rock. Perth seems—from the outside at least—to have a higher psych band per capita head-count than other Australian cities. Have Perth’s high profile exports (Tame Impala and the closely-related POND) created an idea or sound that other Perth bands feel they can simply feed into and replicate their way to the top?
Rahn doesn’t really find much perceptible on-the-ground truth for the idea.
“I think it’s the same as everywhere else…and obviously there’s a lot of spinoffs like a lot of younger dudes and all they listen to is POND and Tame [Impala] and all that kind of stuff who will be really heavily influenced by that stuff but everyone else I don’t know, it just being in Perth, everyone just does their own thing…like you don’t go to like psych gigs or anything. Everything just crosses over…”
And cross over things certainly do. The pair met at Uni, both studying music, and had played in together (as the Chemist) before Hamjam. And currently both members perform in at least two bands, with Rahn playing in Gunns and Ireland playing in the Growl and also Gunns.
“It’s good for fitting everyone on the plane and doing gigs under multiple guises” Rahn laughs.
[AUTHOR’S NOTE: The ‘Uni’ they met at was actually the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) (but pron ‘Whoppa’) which boasts a pretty impressive alumni, from classical pianists like Mark Gasser through to Hugh Jackman and Tim Minchin. In an interview earlier in the month Rahn admitted a little more about Hamjam’s tertiary accolades and aspirations: “Everyone is doing law and stuff. I am just doing politics, Chris is doing law, Tom did philosophy and now works in the federal courts, James has a degree in Jazz, and Clint is a baker.” When Rahn met Ireland, he was studying bass, Ireland, the piano. So maybe just academically assiduous slackers? The whole thing seems to teeter on the brink of oxymoron but seems to hold in a ‘this-is-Perth-don’t question-it’ kind of way.]
And multiple band members playing in multiple bands seems definitive in what Rahn calls the “incestuous” nature of the Perth music scene. His favourite joke about the Perth scene allegedly runs like this:
“There is a guy who gets home from a gig and he walks into his room and his girlfriend is in bed with another dude who is also in a Perth band and he goes “Man, what are you doing? And this dude looks up and goes ‘Oh, it is cool man. Just working on an EP trying to get some stuff out’…”
My eyes lift from the speaker of the phone-spider to the surrounding glass walls—the single band of grey cutting through its gentle tint. The glass is thick, the kind that emits a woodish ‘thunk’ when you tap it with an index finger knuckle and slides shut like an inhaled breath. A long way in every sense from the towel shrouded front room where Hamjam’s EP was recorded. But this is far from the band’s biggest sonic ambiguity. A far greater one is James Ireland himself, who, despite being Hamjam’s producer, has Sudden Onset Hearing Loss, a condition that can rob an affected person of up to a staggering 30db.
“Yeah the first gig Hamjam ever did was a fundraiser for his ear because we one day he woke up and one side of his hearing had just dropped off and he thought maybe he’d got it from just going to the beach or in the shower or something…It’s crazy, he’s a really well-respected musician around these parts and he has half the hearing of everyone else…”
But somehow Ireland doesn’t let it affect him, or Hamjam “at all” according to Rahn. “Yeah we’ll be sitting there and he’ll say ‘should I pull that frequency out a little bit’ and I’m like ‘what fucking frequency?’…And I think ‘how the fuck did you hear that?’”
But the belief in Hamjam as the genuine article, the true oblivion rather than the perfect mask, doesn’t come while Rahn recited the litany of bands they can’t help but be involved in over time, or the financial, medical and geographic setbacks they seem to blithely shrug off in favour of making their ragged tunes. The real ‘nail-in-the-coffin’ moment comes when Rahn talks simply about Hamjam’s music. That’s it. His voice takes on the sort of detached high-rasp that people get when recalling the exact sequence of events of a three-day festival, or when trying to list the ingredients of the cold press juice they had last week but can’t remember the compound name of. He really is already looking forward. ‘Rare Books’, a song he openly admits is “their favourite song” seems favoured largely because it points to what comes next, what he is looking forward to.
“[‘Rare Books’] is our most well written song and definitely closer to what our newer stuff sounds like” Rahn states flatly. But there’s the slightly older songs too, the first songs Rahn ever wrote. Songs like ‘Beachy’ and ‘Fishing’, songs run through an old mixer in their front room; songs steeped in Perth. And, of course, ‘Love’, a song that (despite its sound) seems impossible to wear out.
Hamjam’s EP is out now through Pilerats. Listen to it once, then again, just to be sure they’re the real deal. I’m pretty damn sure they are.
For Cool Accidents