Flag-Burnin’, Rule-Breakin’, Kochie-Fuckin’ Dick Diver

Originally published in ISSUE SEVEN.

Following two shows at The Tote over Christmas — their only shows in Australia for 2015 — not even Dick Diver know where Dick Diver are going next. Who cares? Their latest record, Melbourne, Florida, is their best yet, a totally gripping record of bitterness, cultural criticism, isolation, longing, rebellion, and self-satisfaction. It fuckin’ shreds, too. Rupert Edwards, Al McKay, Al Montfort and Stephanie Hughes are some of Australia’s most precise and imaginative writers — not just in music — and musicians, and even though Rupe once said “There are no love letters,” referring to his own writing, this is kind of a love letter to that.

Stephanie Hughes is laid the fuck out with the worst flu she’s ever suffered when she sends a message to her bandmates: I can’t play the gig tonight. The glowing red trappings of Bar Open are demonic and hallucinatory at the best of times for anyone rolling in off Brunswick Street and falling up the stairs to the bandroom, but there’s no notion of braving it tonight… not in this condition. But somebody’s gotta play, and they scribbled out a few songs for just this occasion. So Rupert Edwards and Al McKay and Al Montfort, play a bare handful of brand new songs and a cover of The Clean to a dozen keen punters. Dick Diver had come into the world, b. 2008.

Seven years later and most folks attuned to what’s good around here can agree on Dick Diver. Their past three records have been shoe-ins for year-end write-ups, they unwittingly pioneered and then condemned a new genre, they’ve toured the world, played all kinds of places, seduced all sorts of puffed up rags, and come out relatively untouchable. And if there was any sense of a fluke, consider that their other bands are celebrated too: Montfort in UV Race and Lower Plenty and Total Control and Eddy Current Suppression Ring, Hughes in Boomgates and Darren Hanlon’s band, Rupe in the Backstabbers with Amy Hill, and McKay in Teaser Pony with the boys from Total Giovanni and the Sinking Tins. A rich milieu, this.

But in February 2015, at the Railway Hotel in Fitzroy North, Rupe is drinking a VB and deciding he doesn’t want to be a national icon, even though to a small but vocal group he kind of already is. Dick Diver are about to release their third full-length album. By this time, they’re pushing against the ceiling of local fame for having been credited as pioneering — or at least refreshing — an archetype of Australian pride by singing songs which reference Aussie things the way the Americans and Brits have referenced American and Brit things for decades. Symbols familiar to the island decorate their lyrics enough to earn them dubious honours like “quintessentially Australian.” Rupe, who’s still trying to shake off the conservativism of his upbringing, is skeptical.

“It wasn’t like I had a project with Dick Diver, like ‘I’m gonna see if I can put Zamels ads in a song and see what people think,” Rupe says. “That’d be disgusting. That’d be like nation-building through music, which is abhorrent to me. A TV Week or whatever is just part of the scenery, it’s part of your life. TV Week isn’t some capitalist symbol of all suffering. It’s just there.”

Rupe is a frustrated icon, but an icon nonetheless. Kinda soft-spoken but bitingly funny and quick. He used to teach local teenagers about Karl Marx on weekdays. Before that he was playing Super Mario and Zelda in Melbourne’s eastern burbs. Between the two, he was doing an Arts degree. “I really hated it. I wasn’t seeing anyone, I didn’t have a girlfriend, I was just this pathetic late teen and started listening to music a lot more and playing guitar a lot more. It was just catch-up from then. I still talk to people and they’re like, ‘You know this or this band?’ that I feel like I should know about, and I’m just like, ‘No, I got no idea.’ I was listening to the Strokes and the Velvet Underground.”

Rupe and Al McKay had known each other for decades and had seen the notion of jamming something out together wilt time after time. But when McKay struck up a friendship with another student of punk and political science, Al Montfort, pieces started falling into place. They found their keystone during a rehearsal at Montfort’s place on Hope Street. “Steph was visiting someone else who lived in the house, she was in the next room, and we were like, ‘Oh we need a drummer,’ so someone asked Steph.”

Steph was born in Wangaratta in 1986, the middle daughter to a teacher and a student unionist. She might’ve picked up a crayon around the same time and found it a good fit, which is how nearly 30 years later her art is everywhere in Australian music — t-shirts, record label logos, promotional prints for Record Store Days, her band’s record sleeves — and Melbourne trams, occasionally, themselves a lifeline for local bands, or in the city of Perth, which she drew a map for a while ago. But she started drumming at 11. She was an energetic kid. Loved dancing, loved running around the footy field. Bailed on the latter when it started getting competitive. “I like mindlessly kicking balls back and forth,” she says. Maybe why she played a cool season of the Community Cup for the Rockdogs and no more. Her musical education started with a pop cross-section: from Madonna’s Immaculate Collection to Bomfunk MC’s ‘Freestyler’. Then she graduated to playing sticks for neighbourhood kids and FreeZA gigs. And later, ska-punk shows at Moorabbin Town Hall, drinking goon in the carpark.

She’d been tight with Montfort since a time he’d wandered into Sticky, a zine shop under Flinders Street Station where she was doing a day a week. They’d see each other at the station on the way to Uni — Steph to Swinburne, Montfort to Monash — and Steph got to know Hope Street while housesitting when Montfort was off with Straightjacket Nation. It turned out they’d been running in similar circles for years, since those carpark goon underage shows with Commissioner Gordon and Frenzal Rhomb. And eventually, Steph was putting on Montfort’s bands at Catfood Press, a squat she was living in on Lygon. Amongst the far-back bedrooms and bathrooms scrawled with anti-fascist graffiti, it had a front room which Steph knew needed to house some gigs.

“It must’ve gone for a year that I put gigs on there every weekend. The first gig was Woollen Kits, my friend who played under MOT, and one of those Alberts Basement bands. Suddenly all my worlds started getting smaller because everyone started playing shows there. Even the people I hired the PA off and stuff. It was a really good bunch of people. The attempt was that it was an all ages space ‘cos I really wanted that, and then it was also BYO, so that’s a bad combo. That was negligent. They still must get mail there. There was a meeting about Catfood Press that they had, that was like ‘What’re we gonna do about this?’ There was a lotta knocks on the door and ‘cos the bedrooms are so far back, I would always not hear it, then I would go out the back door and my housemate, Liam, who runs The Bank now, he would always go ‘Steph’s not here!’ That was only a year. I was hardly there. But it was this hectic, cool period of time where I was cleaning up fuckin’ beer cans and having a great time. Completely filthy, my whole existence. I had a really good time and I met heaps of people.”

Montfort already had some idea of what it took for a band to function from his experience with Straightjacket Nation and Steph had just left her last band, Love Is Science Fiction, a playaround with Eastlink’s Joey Rashid, but ‘cos Rupe and McKay were the catalyst for Dick Diver the onus was on the newbies to write the songs. “I felt like, ‘This seems good and it’s easy to be around these people so I wanna write songs that’ll keep this going,’” Rupe says. “I just thought otherwise it’ll break up within a month and everyone would forget about it. I felt like I wanted to keep it together by trying to write songs other people would like.”

Rupe was excited. He’d never been in a proper band before and it was finally happening and he was so convinced it was going to end within a month that he had to come up with something that’d keep them together. He had no other choice. “It’s not like it was gonna survive ‘cos of friendship at that point.”

But when Steph got the flu the morning of that first show, it confirmed all the apocalyptic scenarios Rupe feared about the band, believing, in his drummer’s absence, that it was all going to shit already. “I was so nervous, but me and Al and Al played anyway. I was just fuckin’ really nervous, really really nervous. Terrified. Still convinced that it was very temporary. I was horribly nervous and probably glad when it was over.” They ended with that cover of The Clean “not knowing that six months later everyone’d be fuckin’ saying ‘Dunedin jangle rock pop’ in every sentence” about the band. “I still get pretty nervous,” Rupe says, “but not that nervous.”

A couple gigs later a couple of indie label guys were in the crowd. Dick Diver were supporting Geoffrey O’Connor at one of his first solo shows, and Geoff’s longtime supporters in Chapter Music’s Guy Blackman and Ben O’Connor were there to watch. A few months later, Guy and Ben emailed the band and asked if Chapter could put out their records. “They were just like, ‘Do you wanna do a seven inch?’ or something. Nothing was signed. I think it was just ‘Let’s do a seven inch’ and it went from there.” Dick Diver were sold on the fact that Guy and Ben were the first and most ardent followers of the band, and each party rewarded each other with loyalty even when the band started getting other offers. “We’d never met these other people, I’m sure they’re nice people, but Ben and Guy come to a lot of shows and talk to us a lot and it just seemed natural.” Seven years later, you can still regularly find Guy and Ben in the crowd when Dick Diver are playing.

A title like 2009’s debut EP Arks Up shoulda tipped folks off to a lot being made outta Dick Diver and their alleged brand of domestic pride. Fuckin’ ark up mate. Strine as. Four young country folks — in their early twenties at this point — pissed off with class warfare and bouncing off university walls where they were learning to hone all that spit and bile into a deadly arrowhead… only it came out not as thrashpunkpuke but warm guitar melodies and a laid back kinda rhythm — the whole… slacker thing — and that’s what was so downright charming about it. The fuzz on the frets mighta recalled the gobbing sarcasm of Malkmus/Berman but lyrically, Rupe and McKay were walking down the line between sincerity and snark laid out by Forster/McLennan in the Go-Betweens, that sense of a thinly sheathed heart which let on more than it wanted but made one feel cool and smart and sexy, at least as much as inner-northeners could. Along with the melodic noodling of New York’s 70s art punks, Arks Up found a guitar-pop thread worth pulling. Seems curious now but there was a time Dick Diver were more Marquee Moon than Mister Pop. And suddenly, people were waiting to see how it would unravel.

As a phenomenon, Dick Diver began in earnest with New Start Again. Released in November 2011, New Start Again made the shit hot Australian summer sound as romantic as it was banal. Every song sung slightly slurred as if from mouths wet with humidity, every beat and chord falling more than attacked. At the time Melbourne was hopelessly pregnant with party rock bands whose response to existential malaise was contrived debauchery, lotsa ooh-oohs and whoa-ohs between jagerbomb-chugging and stage dives, but instead of pursuing chemical distance New Start Again lived within this morose period. For McKay, the stains of grace and youth were wanking in your long black and ambition descended like mosquitoes; for Rupe, life was as consistent and futile as the lotto, folks settling to ignore eachother like toothbrushes in a cup; for Montfort, the holiday exercises of the rich like jetskiing in suits seem hopelessly detached from reality; for Steph, weeks were measured in Centrelink payments.

The last one, the title track, was the one that began to define the next four years of Dick Diver’s public perception. By their second album, Calendar Days, the idea had solidified and spawned the greatest joke Australian music ever played on itself. 2013: The Year Dolewave Broke.

A few years after their handshake with Chapter, Al Montfort is standing on a stage about six feet high and he’s ditched his white cowboy hat and his white studded jacket with Princess Di’s face stamped on the back (we miss ya dahl) and he’s screaming “Fuck Kochie!” again and again. Not in shotgun bursts but drawn out on the ‘e’. “Fuck Kochieeeee! Fuck Kochieeeee! Fuck Kochieeeee!” He’s sounding a little hoarse ‘cos it’s the second day of the Meredith Music Festival and maybe ‘cos everyone’s got permission to go hard on the night before and man, he’s really belting it. Plus it’s hot. They put out fire bans on days like this but this bloke is roasting a morning television host all the same. Dancers in black suits have rushed onto the stage with their heads masked in boxes showing the twisted, crag-rock faces of Rupert Murdoch and Gina Rinehart and Donald Trump and Clive Palmer on alternating sides and they throw gold streamers out into the crowd and then they tear off their suits and now they’re birds! Beautiful red and blue and yellow phoenixes rising from the ashes of the Capitalist West and Montfort is blasting the death-squawk of the world through a saxophone. The crowd is throwing their boots in the air and laughing and cheering for their own apocalypse and even Rupe and Steph and McKay look on the verge of hysterical breakdown trying to keep the song going. And on Montfort’s shirt is — what? — just a circle, or the Ouroborous, snake eating its own tail? Montfort sets up new targets. “Ditch Abbott!” he shouts. “Ditch the Queen!” And then his hit list, a roll call of Australian villains, has ended, and so has Dick Diver’s set.

Al Montfort’s got a wicked silhouette. You could pick it out of a lineup. Certainly outta one of those hip vector posters of infamous head hair — Burt Reynolds, Joan Jett, Lester Bangs, Al Montfort, Dali.

Back in the 70s this now-old fella called Mark Jacobson interviewed Punk Magazine’s Legs McNeil, and took a lengthy digression to speculate on just what’d led humanity to the crisis brink that sparked the flashpoint of New York punk. 20th Century hipsters, Big Jake reckoned while channeling Norman Mailer, dug their nihilism from living in a post-apocalyptic world. Hiroshima and Nagasaki had been scrubbed out by the terrifying might of Ewwwwnited States ingenuity, the Cold War was around the corner, and shit, couldn’t they all get scrubbed out any minute just the same? Their only recourse was to embrace the ephemeral: fast food, pop culture, immediate gratification. World building was for folks with a little more faith in sticking around long enough to see it pay off, and in such dark times, faith was a rarer commodity than cheap sentiment. Much is made now of nuclear disarmament — The Nukes Are Out There! the pollies say — but the threat seems less than omnipresent. What we’re dealing with now ain’t much different though. It’s just an apocalypse of a different nature: economic.

Civil collapse seems eminent when the ability to earn a dollar has never felt so under siege, and don’t even let your mind wander to the disasters of humanity’s environmental neglect. The Koch brothers and old mate Bernie made off with bags of cash at the turn of last decade. It was so comical you can picture their shark teeth glistening in the broad daylight sun as bills fly outta calico sacks stamped with big green dollar signs. An entire city that formed the pillar of a booming American trade — Detroit — has been left in ruins, but thank gosh for the well-meaning bohos moving in to clean it up. Homelessness and unemployment are big business for the prison and military industrial complexes, and brother, that business is boomin’. The once-free wilderness of the internet has been turned into gazillion dollar real estate by brands who, like domineering, abusive spouses, want nothing more than our undivided attention and love. Millennials have begun to accept that they’ll never own property nor have a career in any traditional sense of the word. They’ll switch jobs every four to five years, the Boomer scribes say, and they’ll rent forever, ‘cos freedom and transience is what they want, which is why they love Snapchat so gosh darn much! The regular rap is just that absurd. At the same time, they’re told the young folks who actually got a shot at The Dream are the pioneers of those very same ephemeral utilities. But the rest of ’em are fucked. Ponder for a moment this term, Millennial, which you know comes from ‘millennium’, the not-so-distant pivot point which signified an apocalypse of its own. Anchors on the telly were saying planes would fall outta the fucking sky, ferchrissakes! We all made it through the year 2000 nevertheless, only to find the prophecy was delayed by about a year and nine months. And this is the nom de guerre they gave the next generation. They thought it was a compliment.

What a load to put on a buncha kids who just wanted to satisfy themselves same as everyone who’d come before them, only to meet a society telling ’em they’re a write-off as far as contributing anything lasting went, then turning around and sledging them for only focusing on themselves. Well no shit, grandpa. Evidently it’s up to them to sort out their own issues. Forgive the odd selfie or two, ‘cos living on the precipice of an economic apocalypse brought about by their forebears is bound to make them reject the ruination those forebears had wrought upon them. If not drive them mad and frenzied, like deer hounded into a corner, forced to inflict their own psychic violence in a fight for their very lives. Mental illness being the growing fixture in public discourse it is now, you gotta wonder if it’s not already too late.

None of them will have any money, so it follows that the whole concept of capitalism is gonna sound bananas to them. That’s why you meet so many closet Communists among today’s Youngs. Big Business, in their estimation based on repeated lecturing, has failed them. Big Government might offer the only way out. Which is how we get to dolewave.

After Dick Diver released New Start Again and its title track espoused the glumness of being on whatever permutation the dole has taken for young folks in specific circumstances, people started noticing there was a noose holding a handful of Australian bands together. Some of them were explicit about being on the dole, some of them just sounded so forlorn rapping about shit sharehouses and looking for jobs that they must’ve been. Doug Wallen pegged a few of them in a piece for Mess+Noise called The New Melbourne Jangle, and then got eclipsed on the coinage by his own commenters when Simon Fazio of YIS, posting as hyperfuzz on the M+N boards, tossed out the term ‘dolewave’. There were other contenders: sharehouse-pop, chillmate. But ‘dolewave’ epitomised the downtrodden, affectless vocals and slack riffs and rhythms which dominated whatever was happening in the spotlit Australian underground.

‘Dolewave’! Christ! That’s the one! Well, they can’t get jobs, so maybe they’ll just make up twenty of them a fortnight, scribbling in the names of companies they’d scrolled past on seek.com.au to satisfy the government’s demands of jobseekers, and the dole will give ’em the chance to live what lives they could scratch out. The companies themselves sure as hell wouldn’t. Hours for bottom-rung employees extended off the books, working conditions and relationships were untenable, job security seemed non existent, and any gig which offered a remedy to any of the above seemed even more disenfranchising than being poor. The first world is terrifying for the working class. Go to the mines? Fuck you, you greedy pigfuckers! Close the mines, stop opening your ears for Gina Rinehart and Rupert Murdoch to piss in, and start building a sustainable economy. Suddenly, you’d find a generation of folks willing and eager to become upstanding members of society. Welcome them in, in other words, instead of trying to beat them down. That is the wager of these Millennials. And Dick Diver were marked as new leaders of this wayward generation.

When all this started taking off — grease poured on thinkpiece engines and knuckles cracked and primed to bang out 5c a word epiphanies — the band were horrified. Word started getting around that they found the whole idea mortifying. For starters, none of them were on the dole. And equally as important, any sense of a movement seemed entirely fabricated. What was pegged as influencing this group of bands, who in most cases only had cursory personal knowledge of each other, if at all, were bands like the ones on Flying Nun’s catalogue circa 1980s, but Rupert Edwards was only a mild fan and Al Montfort hadn’t even heard of the label ’til after folks started kicking up dust. Connections were made where, as far as Dick Diver could glimpse, there were none. Being in the eye of the storm is one thing. Being surrounded by folks telling you you’re in the eye of the storm when all you can detect is a warm breeze is entirely confounding.

But even then, there was something in ‘dolewave’ as an idea, ‘cos no matter the aforementioned, incontrovertible facts, Dick Diver were economically political. Maybe Swanny wasn’t signing their cheques, but their tax bracket wasn’t all that far removed. Truthfully, Dick Diver are only explicitly political in their lyrics in brief moments — most so in 2014’s ‘New Name Blues’ — and instead delve in subject matter similar to most pop bands: relationships, family strife, conflicts between ambiguous Yous and Is. But the scenes they’re depicting, when they’re depicting scenes, are immediately familiar to members of the Australian underclass. Whether the members of Dick Diver are of that world or not, they sure as heck know what it looks like. And even though it’s no Rockin’ Rollins rallying cry in most cases, that they even consider that world worthy of inhabiting, and then beautifully evoking in their songs, is what resonates.

If it lacked the textbook rigor to become a bonafide movement, dolewave could at least be a critical framework, ‘cos shit, if you were wild enough you could broaden it to art and books and cinema — what else would you call He Died With A Falafel In His Hand? It’s when folks mistook it for Aussie pride that got Rupe sneering that night at the Railway, and trying to #destroy it on Twitter, and why Steph’s pissed off that the band could be miscategorised as anything but enemies of the state. “There’s not an ocker or a jingoistic part of any of us, so it’s annoying to hear it ever attached to parts of Australianness that I think are disgusting,” Steph says. “I associate it as well with this gross masculinity that is foul. I am so disgusted by that stuff. So naturally there’s gonna be a cringe in it. Everyone in Dick Diver comes from a place of thinking critically about stuff. We should be thinking about what’s going on, why this is this and that is that, but those surface, easy readings are infuriating.”

Calendar Days, their second album, came out in March. By October, two months before that Meredith slot, Dick Diver were playing a medley with Twerps at the annual Chapterfest show, manically riffing over the awkward noise about all being gainfully employed and dolewave being a dumb gag. What started as an internet goof had intersected with real life just over a year after it started, which always signifies its critical mass: memedeath. The thinkpieces tapered off after that — although the term would inevitably find its way into the reviews and interviews of upstarts who knew no better for another two years — but there was a sense that Calendar Days had been underestimated all the same. Sure, it made the end-of-year lists anyway, but taking it on its own terms had seemed like an afterthought.

Two writers who got closest to the heart were AH Cayley and Shaun Prescott, Cayley entwining her own bitter struggle to survive with Calendar Days’ misery and Prescott describing Dick Diver as “beautiful and poignant in an aggressively sad way, in a fashion we can only laugh along with.” While other folks were wrapped up with the trivialities, namechecking (and in some cases fabricating) signifiers of suburban Australia in the lyrics to fit the exhausted narrative, Cayley and Prescott both grabbed onto that throughline. Calendar Days was even less the smirking diary entry of Aussie hipsterism their earlier records were alleged to be; it was a bleak and sentimental portrait painted in precise scenes. And while the brushstrokes were applauded, the big picture went too often unseen.

Calendar Days blew open the gripping, ominous mood of New Start Again’s ‘Keno’ and scrawled it over vignettes of crumbling relationships doomed by frustration and miscommunication, eerie and forlorn family homes, bigoted men who later (fantastically, Al Montfort later confessed) found love with each other, and the terrifying scream into adulthood. Rupe once said he hoped Dick Diver’s music would float over folks’ heads before they’d come back for the lyrics, but Calendar Days made it harder than ever: catchier melodies and the fact that the band were now layering their voices together more often meant emphasis, meant verses and choruses pushing their way into one’s ears in concentrated effort, and Steph’s melancholic turns on ‘Calendar Days’ and ‘Water Damage’ — in striking contrast to her relatively dry takes on earlier tracks — were instantly unforgettable. On New Start Again, Dick Diver were still working themselves out, but Calendar Days felt certain.

Back during the whole dolewave malarkey, Ian Rogers, contrary to everyone pointing at sharehouses and whatever, pegged the unifying element as production; all these records sounded like shit, like folks too lazy or disinterested in musicality to spend much time in a studio booth. Melbourne, Florida put that noise to rest. In 2014, Dick Diver were a hot commodity. Americans who knew their stuff had gotten a whiff of ’em off a couple of track reviews making the rounds, which meant locally the band were picking up hip support slots and playing bigger venues, and abroad, they were booking tours. Meanwhile, they were sketching out the new record in their private time. The music, mostly. The lyrics hardly came until they’d booked an old stead in Apollo Bay. Here was another chance for them all to grow further into each other.

After Calendar Days, Rupe was drained. “After a record is finished you just feel exhausted or empty, just like you’ve got nothing. It’s like, maybe that’s it. Maybe I’ve got nothing left. In which case I’ll go and like, buy an Xbox. But on the other hand I feel like it’s just like starting from scratch, and you gotta build it up again. Which is good. I don’t wanna just do the same thing over and over,” he says. “I felt like I had to start from scratch and build something up that interested me. The way I was writing any lyrics before didn’t interest me at all.”

The liner notes came quick, though. Look inside Melbourne, Florida, beyond the cover photo taken by Steph’s girlfriend and sister to Woody, Mia McDonald, and the left side insert comes from a fantasy Rupe used to have working at a newsagent, hoping he’d get run over so he could go home early. The right side is one half of a conversation from one transgressive to their aunt, rattling off broadsides about all that’s ailing the country. That was written by Montfort. “I think he’s just really good at writing politically incorrect rants,” Rupe says.

Melbourne, Florida is a step beyond everything Dick Diver were alleged to be. It’s not particularly jangly, for starters. “I would’ve felt absurd if I’d written another song with three 12-string acoustic guitars doing the same thing.” And for the most part, those quintessentially Australian items which made surface reading so easy are gone. No more Zamel’s ads, venetian blinds, TV Weeks, all those things Rupe thought would hang like wallpaper but became the centerpiece instead.

But here’s the thing: there’s nothing wrong with wanting a record to sound Australian, to love it more than a record that doesn’t, because while nation-building might be horrible, community-building ain’t, and there is something affirming in having the attitudes and people around you documented and reflected, even — especially — critically. And on Melbourne, Florida, Dick Diver kept that, in more subtle and pervasive ways. Snippets of suggested dialogue like the aforementioned “Europe’s fucked probably / It seems insane” is exactly the kinda thing some guileless backyard commentator from the other side of the world would say, having picked up a few seconds of the six o’clock news. Meanwhile tall poppy syndrome comes out through the fable of disgraced ice skating champion Tonya Harding on ‘Competition’ and Al Montfort dismantles the gross masculinity intrinsic to the Australian identity on ‘Talk To A Counsellor’.

It’s also funnier and more scathing than previous records. If Rupe and McKay determined anything before recording the album, it was to push the scope of how biting Dick Diver could get. “We liked the idea of bitchy lyrics. I don’t think it’s a bitchy record but being able to allow into songs this bitchy kind of lyrics which shit talk other people, which obviously has been done so well by every other kind of type of music, but it’s not traditionally done in this kind of music. So it that sense it felt like fun to do… trying to lay a person low, but in that kind of roundabout way. These songs don’t allow room for saying ‘You’re a fucking idiot and I hate you,’ that would sound stupid. I wish I could write a really concrete fuck-you to people.” Which is how you end up with Rupe dancing over a cheap, shitty keyboard plugged into a tiny amp with the distortion turned up while he rolls his eyes at everything on ‘Competition’, and maybe ‘cos it’s not a concrete fuck-you, it feels all the more cutting.

‘Competition’ is one of the most interesting songs on the record for the fact of that cheap, shitty keyboard. It sounds like nothing else Dick Diver ever recorded, but it feels like an organic part of Melbourne, Florida. “It’s not just like a project to make songs bitchy, it’s a project to allow more things into the songs than just ‘I love you’ or ‘I hate you’. There’s so much more to life than ‘I love you’ and ‘I hate you’, or ‘Isn’t our relationship bad?’ and ‘I’m sitting on my porch drinking VB’ blah blah blah. Obviously life is way more complex than that and I wanted to allow more complexity into songs.”

The way songs are written are different in every instance, but moments of collaboration oughta give you some sense of their dynamic. For ‘Blue Time’, a duet with Rupe, Steph says “Rupe came in with a duet in mind and went ‘Here’s this. You interpret the melody.’ There were two different ways that we played it.” ‘Tearing The Posters Down’ was written by Rupe but seeded by Montfort. “He was like, ‘You should write a song called ‘Tearing The Posters Down’. And I was like, ‘Whatever, don’t tell me how to write songs.’ I was like ‘Yeah yeah, sure, I’ll do that later.’ Like ‘No, I’m not gonna do that.’ And he kept saying it every time I saw him. ‘You should write ‘Tearing The Posters Down’!’ When it got to doing the lyrics for that song, which I was just dreading, I was like ‘Tearing the posters down, could that fit there? Maybe. The melody does kinda fit there in that bit.’ Then I thought about being at home alone and being solitary and someone tearing posters down as this feeble political act, which appealed to me.” McKay’s ‘Waste The Alphabet’ was co-written with Melbourne poet Michael Farrell and now stands as the loudest and most propulsive song on the record, but early on he tried a different version out on the band. “It’s not ska, it’s like a raga. Al McKay was just like ‘Do it this way,’ and I was like ‘Oh god.’ But now I love it. It only took me like five years. I think I was computing it,” Steph says.

The record ends with a solemn piano ballad by Steph. I used to think Steph’s voice was the best part of Dick Diver, and now I appreciate the other elements equally, but it’s always set them apart from the endless, indistinguishable whine of their contemporaries. ‘New Start Again’ and ‘Calendar Days’ stood out because of it, and on Melbourne, Florida, between ‘Leftovers’, ‘Blue Time’ and ‘View From A Shakey Ladder’, Steph lands some of the hardest striking hits of the record. “I love singing,” she says. “It feels fun. It’s silly. I’m always nervous about anything and it’s an incredibly nerve-wracking thing to do, but I think Boomgates really helped with that, feeling confident about singing. Fuckin’ shut up and get over it and sing. Do it, y’know? You may as well. If you sing on your own in front of your cat and the TV, you might as well sing in front of people.”

It closed their set on Christmas Eve.

The Tote band room was smothered in blanketing heat. At the top of the house left wall were fairy lights arranged like Christmas trees tinseled with red. On the right, a half dozen people standing on tables. In between were hundreds of folks scuffing each others’ shoes and craning their necks. Another dozen were outside, including Guy Blackman, watching through the window. On the stage from the left it went McKay, Montfort, Rupe. And then Steph behind ‘em.

A couple blocks away Courtney Barnett was playing a show at the Old Bar. Merry Christmas, Melbourne. It’s 2012 again.

For as much excitement as there was in the air, this being Dick Diver’s first show of the year and the year nearly over, it rolled out like any other night. Montfort made with the sly jokes between the first few songs, then fell back when Steph came out on guitar for a run of her own. Most of ’em in the crowd looked like they hadn’t been to the Tote since Calendar Days. True to a band who’d shrugged at critical acclaim and brushed off any attempt to make more of them than they thought was warranted, Dick Diver weren’t playing the spectacle. They were playing the songs.

Dick Diver aren’t going away but nobody can say when they’re coming back. After the Christmas break, McKay and Rupe go back to Europe, and Steph and Al go back to missing ’em. “People have got relationships and work, and that’s a cool thing about Dick Diver, it’s not like we have to do everything that everyone says we have to do,” Steph says. “That would make it pretty shit, like a job.” But she misses them anyway, what she calls her insta-gang. “I missed them when I first heard the idea that they were gonna be overseas. ‘That’s stupid! Why would you ever try to further yourselves? How dare you grow and develop and change!’”

“In the past few years, four people who’ve had full time jobs in most of that time, we’ve done a lot,” Rupe says. “If this was our only job we’d be considered lazy. Bands whose job it is to play music tour way more than us. But for us, we pushed it a bit. At the same time, there’ve been points where we planned ahead. Like when we went to America last year, that had to be planned ahead. But we’ve never had a real plan for anything. No five year plan.” Still, not a bad run. No five year plan, indeed, coulda accounted for what’d unfold after that day over on Hope Street, and three flooring records ain’t nothin’ to fuck with. Everybody’s always working and nothing really ends, that’s the takeaway here, and don’t let the bastards grind you down. “There’s no slogans in real life,” Rupe once told me, but here’s one from Al Montfort, from ‘Head Back’, which one oughta keep in mind: “There’s no rules / Be yourself / Burn the flag.” From a buncha literary punks, that’s pretty good advice.

This story originally appeared in STRINE WHINE: ISSUE SEVEN. You can support the zine by buying it here.