The line sticks in the memory among memorable hooks, all in the way every syllable has to be suuuucked out into the world like meat through a straw. It’s just one moment from Terrible Truths’ debut record, a parcel of songs mostly held to live shows from the past few years. Eagerly anticipated and now finally here, Terrible Truths have something to satisfy a half-decade hunger. Rani Rose, guitarist, and Joe Alexander, drummer, sit down to talk it out.
Before I knew Terrible Truths, I made ’em for the iciest punks goin’ round. Stacey and Rani traded off the mic, snarling and barking bulletburst lines of confusion and torment and between and behind them, Joe Alexander’s wordless yawping, his face contorted into Munch parody as he struck the kit. Very little talking between songs, and when it did come out it was in shy platitudes. They left it all in the verses. There was never any holding court by the bar or seeking company in smoking areas. They seemed to exist entirely on stage. I never knew where they went after that.
They cut a fearsome figure too: Stacey in all black, boney white cheekbones jutting out of Joey Ramone hair to vomit her howls into the PA, Rani electrified and vibrating with energy, striking every note in the great echoing cascade. There was nothing theatrical about their shows but they were magnetic all the same. When eyes weren’t bubblegum glued to the inverse spectacle, they were pointed down at dancing toes. To watch felt beside the point. More accurate to stare into yourself, let the rhythm guide your body and invite it all to envelope your head and heart in a great buzzing swarm of joy in dread.
Joey once told me Terrible Truths were fun and dance-y the way you might say the same about Operator Please or some other giddy glittering technicolour puddle, but all the same and from a distance, Terrible Truths sound like the unwilling drip-drop of emotion from a heart dammed up and trying hard to remain motionless. Like the cracks in any dam, the torrent inevitably comes out with a punch.
As it turns out, Terrible Truths aren’t Byronic saddos. Joe faces life’s tides of shit with incomprehensible cheer and good faith, Rani bears no trace of skepticism, and Stacey, while the most public (and empathetic) about her anxiety, is absolute warmth.
It took a long time to get here, though, and that fact has become a fixture of their press. Where’s the record? When’s the record? I’m guilty of it, although only ever out of excitement, and now that it’s out, the line shows up everywhere. Folks of a certain type have been waiting eagerly and now that waiting has paid off and still those folks want to know: What took so long?
Rani Rose and Stacey Wilson met when they were 17 on the proto-Tumblr social network LiveJournal. “She was pretty much the only person I could find who was also into riot grrl and all the specific bands I was into and also lived in Adelaide.” Rani lived in the hills, Stacey lived in the Barossa Valley, but they were more or less in the same city and even that much was remarkable. Rani had been making it in the scene since she started going to hardcore and screamo shows at 14, but indie bands like Hit the Jackpot welcomed her in proper. Starting a band with Stacey was obvious. First came All Made of Rubies, the only evidence of which exists in last.fm scrobbles and a couple of live videos, one of which was taken by Hit the Jackpot’s Stephanie Crase.
“All Made of Rubies were babies out of high school… they just appeared and were tight, energetic and exciting,” Crase says. “Stacey and Rani were shy but involved in booking gigs for cool, weird, obscure, alternative, punk and outsider artists. All Made of Rubies had the attack and syncopation of Terrible Truths but was less new wave punk and more indie disco at times — you know, it was the mid-naughties.”
After that, Stacey and Rani moved onto a screamo band called F Scott Fitzgerald who left even less public evidence than All Made of Rubies. Two years after finding each other in the cosmos, Rani and Stacey moved in together and started dating. Terrible Truths came soon after.
“F Scott was over and All Made of Rubies was over so it was time to start something new,” Rani says. “We wrote so many songs and just threw them away. I listened back to them the other day and they were incredible. I don’t know what the fuck I was thinking.” The ones that survived included ‘Diamond’ and ‘Patterns’ and ‘No Wind, No Waves’. But this was before Joe.
“[Stacey] was pretty much the only person I could find who was also into riot grrl and all the specific bands I was into and also lived in Adelaide.”
At first, Rani and Stacey recruited Liam Kenny, another of Adelaide’s gutter poets and a merc muso for bands like Bitch Prefect and any other friends in need. Bitch Prefect would drive up to Brisbane where a similar scene of morose twentysomethings playing ramshackle angst was taking place. And there was Joe, Kenny’s Brisbane analog, all too happy to get his sticks behind any band who’d have him and building up the newly minted Bedroom Suck Records meanwhile. And like Joe was to Kenny, Kitchen’s Floor was to Bitch Prefect.
Matt Kennedy, Kitchen’s Floor’s bozo auteur heartthrob and Brisbane music tourist attraction, was gearing up to tour his second record when Kenny came to mind to play bass. “Matt was like, ‘Yeah Liam, you can play in Kitchen’s Floor and we’ll just meet in Adelaide’ or whatever,” Joe says. “So we went to Adelaide and played at this club called the Exeter and it was awesome. That was still one of the best shows.”
A serendipitous one, too. The lineup went Kitchen’s Floor, Hit the Jackpot, Dud Pills, and Rites Wild. Besides Steph Crase (later of Summer Flake) Hit the Jackpot also included Bitch Prefect’s Scott O’Hara. Dud Pills featured Bitch Prefect’s Pat Telfer and Liam Kenny. And Rites Wild was — and remains — the solo project of one Stacey Wilson.
Rani and Joe can’t quite make the date exactly, but the internet can. January 8, 2011. That’s when Joe Alexander met Terrible Truths.
When it came time for Kenny to swap out of Terrible Truths, Joe knew he had big kicks to fill. “I remember being in Kitchen’s Floor with Liam, we went to the States, there was this one cool moment where we played in this warehouse and before the show we were just sittin’ around,” Joe says, “and there was this drumkit there, and Liam sat down and was busting out all these drum beats. I was like ‘Fuck man, that’s so cool!’ I don’t know if I’d seen Terrible Truths then. He had this rule where he was like, ‘I never wanna do the same fill. Every fill has to be slightly different.’ Which is cool. And really hard to do. So when I had to play in Terrible Truths, I was really freakin’ out tryna learn all the stuff he did.”
Joe figured out he liked the drums in year ten. “We had to learn to play ‘Wild Thing’ on drums, bass, and guitar, and I really liked drums. After that I kept playing drums. And I forgot everything I learned about guitar.” Before that, he was into noise music. He’d struck up a friendship with a weird, quiet kid called Sam, and after school they’d go into the Alexander garage and wrestle guitar feedback into the most grotesque half nelsons they could commit to tape. Papa Alexander would run the mower just to drown it out.
On Sundays, Joe would go down to Audio Pollen in West End, escorted by one of his older brothers, and watch Blank Realm and the other experi-mentalists bending strange signals into melodies. But despite these signifiers, he was a good kid. Studious, attentive, polite. A real good kid… until the art got to him, and then it was bye bye plans for the safety of squaredom, hello to the vehicular slalom through Australia’s coasts and deserts, bouncing over the horizon from one deadbeat scene to the next.
While all that was happening up north, a South Australian hippie father was tutoring his bright-eyed flower child on the components of music. He’d put on a tune, maybe something folky, maybe something psychedelic, and “What’s the bass doing now?” he’d ask lil Rani. “Hum it to me.” And she would.
Papa Rose was a bluesman, always egging Rani on when she wanted to play the strings too. The first instrument was a violin but she played it like a guitar anyway, and when she asked her dad to get her a bass, he said, “You have to learn to play guitar first, and if you do, I’ll get you a bass.” 20 years later she plays both in Terrible Truths, and up until recently, her dad was her greatest supporter.
This is how Rani describes the split workload in the band:
“Stacey usually comes up with the initial tune, I guess, and we kinda all work together. She’ll sometimes come up with the guitar or bass and teach me one or the other, and we’ll usually write the lyrics. Or not write the lyrics together but write the vocal pattern together. We’ll usually write lyrics separately and then just, ‘Hey, what’re you singing?’ and I’ll go through my journal like ‘Okay, this kinda relates,’ and merge ’em together. But often we don’t know what the other’s singing about and it’s a happy accident that it ends up being…”
And this album… boy, it’s crackling with atomic energy just waiting to split. Dig the way Rani’s guitar zaps like tapping toes on wet pavement and Stacey Wilson’s plodding bass comes on like a warm hug and hey ho! There’s Joe! Grinding that snare into hummus. A perfect portrait of gloom and fun.
This seems like a post-punk record on paper — wiry guitar lines, Stacey and Rani’s enunciated, staccato shoutsinging, Joey’s tight, ratatat drumming. Few post-punk bands sound this extroverted, but. You hear in this record a desire to reach across the barrier and communicate. It’s balled fists of angst lyrically, but melodically, rhythmically, this is music meant to bring folks together. And those ideas ain’t so dichotomous, really.
Rani and Stacey’s piercing shouts alternate between sparring and rallying together and that tension is one of the driving elements in their songs.
Take away the distortion on a track like ‘Don Juan’ and turn down the BPM a few notches and you’ve got bossa nova. Take the guitar on ‘Uptight’ and turn it into a vocal melody, you’ve got a spry playground chant. Walk into any Terrible Truths show and see a buncha movin’ groovin’ bodies with their molars on show. And that’s the bandwidth of abandon through which come the words.
The way Terrible Truths songs are recorded, the lyrics are the ancient artefacts in the archaeological dig; you unearth ’em in fragments until you get the full picture. But the vocal melodies come before that, like thermal scans, poking at what’s beneath but so sharp in their meaning you don’t even gotta look. Rani and Stacey’s piercing shouts alternate between sparring and rallying together and that tension is one of the driving elements in their songs. Like unleashed dogs snapping at each other’s heels, there’s something beyond verbal which tells you if it’s playing or fighting. Joe is a kind of inside spectator to this spectacle.
“Tim Richmond busted me the other day on this, ‘cos I have no idea what any of the songs are about. Probably with Terrible Truths I should ask you guys more. I listen to the melodies. The vocal melodies, totally. But I never stopped to think about the lyrics. You’re gonna have to go through and explain some of the songs.”
Even on the microscopic level, there’s a lot to find in the verses. Small, vivid universes, these vignettes of feeling, take off in images of contests in nature and the animal world. Rani has been working on her poetry since she was 12 and she’s long been wrapped up in magical realism, “particularly Haruki Murakami,” but grounded in the Beats and poets like Sylvia Plath.
Meanwhile, Joe tells this story about what he’s been reading:
“I was recently reading one that I think I told you about, The Snow Leopard, Peter Matthiessen. You’d like it. It’s non fiction, I guess. It’s about this guy who went to Tibet in the 70s, he’s good friends with this biologist. His friend was going to look for this rare snow leopard and also to study the snow sheet. So this guy just tagged along ‘cos he was like an adventurer. He’s really into Zen Buddhism and he wanted to go to this monastery — or lamastery — it’s awesome.
“There’s a page of like travel writing about them climbing these mountains and there’s another two pages about his reflections on Zen Buddhism and his life. Just before going on this journey with his friend his longtime partner had passed away with cancer so he’s dealing with that as well. That definitely struck a chord.”
The way Rani and Joe talk to each other, they seem in love. And what an ideal situation for her to be in this band! Her partner Stacey to her left, a united front against the world, and Joey behind her, her greatest platonic love.
“I feel like I’ve known you forever and I feel like you’re a brother,” she says to Joe.
“I was about to get deep or something, I was about to be like, I don’t know why Rani loves me so much, ‘cos I think Rani’s awesome.”
“I didn’t mean it in that way. I guess what I was trying to say is I feel really close to you as well.”
“I guess with some people you feel like you’ve known them forever.”
“It was really nice — sorry to bring this up — when you said I remind you of your dad.”
Rani gets kinda soft and earnest when Joe says this. “Yeah, you do remind me of my dad. A lot.”
The reason Joe might be sorry to bring that up is because Rani’s dad died not so long ago. They were writing the record when it happened. Six months later, her grandfather died too. “That took a whole year before I could go to the supermarket without freaking out. Doing anything else was just too much,” she says.
“Especially my dad being the one who taught me to play and always being so supportive. I mean, my mum was always really supportive too but it was more of a bonding thing between me and him, especially ‘cos he bought me my first guitars and always took me to the guitar store and was always really into it with me. It was really difficult to take the next step without him.”
Without being able to say “Hey dad! Look at what we’re doing!” Rani found it hard to think about going on a European tour, the first milestone for the band since he’d passed. “Grief takes a really long time… and it’s shit to read reviews saying, ‘It took this long and it’s only nine songs!’ and it’s like, yeah, but, the only two males in my life have just died.
“Not the only two,” she adds, looking at Joe. “You’re number three.”
Papa Rose woulda been proud. The tour was a success. They hopped through the northern continent with Totally Mild, playing to eager and sometimes huge crowds. There was only one sour moment. It happened on the tail end, when they reached the UK. Totally Mild were playing and Rani, Stacey and Joe were in the audience. A couple next to Stacey were bickering real loud during the set, Stace politely asked them to be quiet, and the response was for the guy to punch his girlfriend in the throat and the girlfriend to shatter a glass in his face. The sick twist was the girlfriend showing up at the house where the bands were all staying, where she also lived.
Joe was back in Melbourne for two weeks before taking off for Japan with Scott & Charlene’s Wedding — just enough time for him and some of the Totally Mild gang to get rowdy at the AIR awards — but Terrible Truths are still on the move. The second album is just about ready to record — they’ll mic up in January, they reckon — and an album launch is set to cover the country in a few weeks. Rani and Stacey are planning their ten year anniversary trip, too, and Joe is setting up bigger things for Bedroom Suck. “Things are growing. Things are changing,” he says. And everyone can put away their egg timers. It won’t be long before Terrible Truths are back again.