Rebel Yell: Out for Perfection

by Madeleine Laing

So you wanna make heavy industrial dance music in Brisbane — one- or two-person synth stuff that goes hard as hell. Well you have to really want it, ’cause you’re gonna be pIaying at 8:30 on five-band lineups before your friends’ guitar bands, and you know it’s not gonna be loud enough or dark enough for the crowd to do anything except nod their heads and maybe tap one toe off-beat. If you’re gonna do this thing, you have to really want it. Grace Stevenson (Rebel Yell) does — and she’s got the necessary vision, and (close your eyes rock dogs) the ambition and organisational skills to make something happen.

Rice Is Nice think so too, signing up to put out Rebel Yell’s first EP off the back of an email that Grace sent after recording eight tracks in one afternoon at Mathew Cook (White Palms)’s house. “They replied straight away — they just said, ‘Okay, let’s do this’,” Grace says, sounding still surprised (as am I, honestly, the Rebel Yell stuff is mad but I thought unsolicited emails had an exactly 0% success rate.) And things are moving quickly — from that initial afternoon of recording at Cook’s place, where Grace just plugged her synth into the computer and played like she would live (“I smashed it out”), there’s gonna be a four track EP, Mother of Millions, out on August 19, with the first single ‘Never Perfection’ premiering last month.

When Grace plays live her songs often don’t have a set structure — she lines up beats and releases them when she feels it, so knowing when a song’s finished can be hard. But she says these four are the ones she’s practiced the most. “They seemed the most structured — songs don’t really become ‘songs’ till I’ve practiced and played them live heaps.” You’ll get to hear one of the other tracks through another project soon, though: “Dan Ford (Orygyn) is putting out a range of T-shirts with a zine of drawings and a cassette […Melbourne] with one of my songs, and Pillow Pro and Teva and some other people on it, so that’ll be really cool.”

Grace says she’s especially excited to be on something with Pillow Pro, an act she’s pretty inspired by. “I love Pillow Pro — how they’ve already made a film clip and there’s another one on the way and they’re always doing photo shoots and I’m like ‘Yes! Love it!’” Grace understands the value of a strong look — she studied design, is big into fashion and always looks terrific — but in a more relaxed way than a lot of the Melbourne bands she cites as models (Habits, EN.V, you know the vibe).

“That’s one of the reasons why I’m really excited about doing a solo thing — I love doing stuff with 100% [the three piece Grace is in with Chloe Baxter (Cannon) and Lena Molnar (Heavy Breather)], but having three different personalities and ideas and timetables, it’s been so good to branch out and decide exactly what I wanted my aesthetic to be.” Grace also wants to keep the music as separate from 100% as possible. “I try and separate them for myself cause I don’t want there to be too much crossover — when I decided to branch out I just played around with beats and worked with whatever came out — and it ended up really fast and dark.”

100% is definitely more pop and ’80s influenced — Chloe Baxter is an incredible synth player, playing a lot of stuff live that other people would program, and singer Lena Molnar has that real don’t-give-a-fuck magnetic confidence thing — but the beats still have Grace’s signature hard-hitting vibe. She thinks this affinity for drum machine might come from her background in dance: “I’ve danced my whole life, and I think that’s why I’m so into set beats and counts — I’m always counting.”

The singing part didn’t come so naturally — she says she doesn’t even call what she does singing, “more like just… shouting… I tried to sing, and I sound good to myself in the car but… I remember one time Chloe and I decided, ‘Ok, we’re gonna sing in front of each other today’ and we were so timid and I sounded so bad! So that’s why I’ve got the heavily distorted vocals. My brother bought me a distortion pedal for Christmas and I was like ‘Yes! I can finally do this because no one has to hear me.’”

Personally I think more girls with shit voices should be singers — it’s never stopped a dude (can you imagine two punk guys being like ‘Okay, let’s sing in front of each other now and make sure we sound okay’?) but the abrasive distorted yelling absolutely works for Grace’s stuff.

We get onto talking about Melbourne — we agree neither of us is gonna move ’cause visiting is too fun and once you lived there, you know, it might get old. “But then,” Grace says, “you think about all the great people you could play with in Melbourne and there’s so many people you could collaborate with… There’s like Vacuum and Nun and Habits, EN.V, heaps of great stuff driven by women too.” And sure, Grace’s vision on aesthetic and fashion and all things visual might fit better down there, but having bands like Rebel Yell on punk bills actually makes a lot of sense — it’s fast drumming, and heavy distortion, just like traditional punk music. And hearing stuff without guitars and dude feelings might actually be broadening what we (you know, the cynical weekly rock show-goer) think is acceptable to be into.

She also got into making music in a pretty punk I-could-do-that way: “I was watching this really good BBC documentary called Synth Britannia and it’s all about Human League and Gary Numan and how they were all just pressing random buttons and I thought ‘yes! I can do this!’”

Though Grace isn’t against broadening her horizons in the near future, “I want to start changing things now — I have some new equipment that I want to buy and add more layers and just more sounds. I’ve got a sampler and I want to add random recordings and stuff in. And I want to buy a new synth and add some lines, ‘cos I’m just using a noise synth at the moment. Ultimately all I want is for it not to be pretty. At all.”

Originally published in STRINE WHINE: ISSUE THIRTEEN