MARIAH Carey covers. German hitchhikers. A poster made on MS Paint.
Phantastic Ferniture’s first show at the Record Crate – a tiny record store slash bar slash venue – in Glebe in Sydney’s inner-west had it all.
Held five days before Xmas, the show was hastily booked at the band’s first rehearsal. “We knew the way that you get your shit together is to have a deadline,” says guitarist Liz Hughes. “The show was three months away.”
So the band – initially started as a bit of a “joke” by Liz (aka Elizabeth Fader), singer Julia Jacklin (of Julia Jacklin fame), drummer Ryan K Brennan, and former bassist Tom Capell – got to work. Sort of. They eked out just two songs in the “two to three rehearsals” before the show, and were almost going to pull the pin a few days out. For some reason they persevered.
“I remember thinking, ‘I’m going to cancel this.’ But Julia and I were like, ‘Fuck it. It’s the Record Crate and we were going to be there anyway.’”
Julia recalls the gig being a bit of a disaster – but in the best possible way. “Basically the gig was: my mum; this hitchhiker she picked up on the way, who just looked perplexed; five of our friends; and then the support acts, which we locked in the day of.”
“We had to learn the songs in the car park while the support acts were playing.”
“There was this comedian supporting us because we had to hustle a support act in 10 seconds,” adds Liz. “The other support was a three-part choir … In soundcheck we just realised that no one knew the songs. I think Tom and I were playing one of the songs in different keys, so we had to learn the songs in the car park while the support acts were playing.”
Phantastic Ferniture have got their shit together a lot more since then – playing more shows, developing a cult local following, and recording a self-titled debut – but the story of their first show is very much indicative of the loose agenda this band keeps. And Julia, Ryan and Liz wouldn’t have it any other way.
Phantastic Ferniture has become an outlet for them to make music that sits outside their more folksy and – dare I say it – serious main gigs, and that’s probably what makes their debut so spirited and refreshingly carefree.
Here’s the story behind each track of the first (and perhaps last) Phantastic Ferniture album. True to form, they haven’t made any long-term plans beyond this release.
“Just to have even got to the point in our really busy 20s to all come together and be able to make something like this together, that’s really special,” says Julia. “I think we all are going to just try and bask in even getting to this point, and then I think we’ll just see what happens, really.”
Julia: I just remember going to a lot of house parties in the Blue Mountains where Liz would be as well – kind of before we were friends. My experience in the Blue Mountains was not one of super joyfulness. I always just wanted to live in the city and move to the city. In the mountains – I guess it’s kind of like anywhere, really – you’ve got these groups. You’re either a hippy; or you’re in that Aussie hip-hop/soul scene, which I also wasn’t in; or the drug scene, taking a lot of drugs. And I was floating between all of those groups and trying to change myself to fit it into something, and nothing was ever sticking. I think Liz was the same, really. I ended up leaving the mountains when I was 16 and going to school in Sydney, and that was just the best thing I’d ever done. To get out.
Liz: I think everyone can identify with being an uncomfy teen. It’s like, you think you can avoid all the awkwardness of becoming an adult if you’re clever and agile, but there’s no avoiding those moments. Like getting dumped or rejected or just making a fool of yourself. That shit happens to everyone, everywhere and it usually happens when you’re a teen.
Liz: This one was really fun to produce. We won this comp to record at this really nice studio in Sydney – Studios 301. We went in there with Ryan and Tim Carr, and we had like a whole two days for this one song. That had really never happened to us before. It was such a luxury. I think you can hear the difference in the track, I think it’s sounds pretty lush. They had an endless supply of free Arnott’s cookies and coffee. I always think of Kingston biscuits when I think of this song.
Julia: I remember I wrote the chorus while sitting at the traffic lights in St Peters [in Sydney’s inner-west] after finishing work at the factory for the day. That’s all I remember about writing it. It was an essential oil factory – quite a nice factory – so it wasn’t very Springsteen. I was sitting in a production line bottling things. ‘Bad Timing’ is just a fun number about always wondering if the grass is greener when it comes to relationships.
"It was my parents old mattress and we just dragged it down to Blackwattle Bay in Glebe and decided to jump on it for the duration of the song."
Liz: ‘Fuckin ‘N’ Rollin’ was such an interesting one. After our first/last show, [former bass player] Tom Capell and Ryan recorded the drums and bass and Tom did this vague vocal take over it. Then, like six months passed by and Ryan and I heard it come on shuffle when we were hanging in the studio one day. We were surprised by how cool it sounded, so we decided to finish it.
Julia: ‘Fuckin ‘N’ Rollin’ was the first thing we ever recorded and first thing we ever put online, and it was not in any way going to be connected to anything. Initially we made this real DIY music video of us jumping on a mattress down in Blackwattle Bay [in Sydney].
Liz: It was my parents old mattress and we just dragged it down to Blackwattle Bay in Glebe and decided to jump on it for the duration of the song. It was filmed on an iPhone gaffa taped to a stick, stuck in the ground. We played the song from an iphone amplified by a brown paper bag. I remember we dragged the mattress back to the alley across the road from our old house where we, admittedly, used to dump old furniture. The next day I tried to turn into the alley in my car and someone was stopped in the middle of the road. This poor woman got out of her car and ran up to my window and was like, “I am so sorry to block the road – some idiot has left a queen sized mattress in the middle of this alley.” I was just like, “Ah, how irresponsible. Kids these days.”
Julia: I remember there was one YouTube comment on the video and it was, “What the fuck is this? Wouldn’t even be good after four beers at the pub.” … It was really harsh, and it was the only comment we got, and we were like, “Oh, okay.” But anyway, hopefully whoever that was has changed his mind.
Liz: I showed my parents the video and they were like, “Hey! That’s our old mattress!” I swear I’m a responsible adult now.
Julia: It’s lyrically in kind of a similar vein to ‘Bad Timing’, just about when you’re young and everybody wants to be in love, but then also wants to go find themselves in some way. There’s just so much drama tied up in young people wanting to do both things – and pain when you’re left behind by someone who wants to go and find themselves. A lot of the time when you’re in your late teens, early-20s, that apparently means going and sleeping with people at backpacking hostels – that’s how we find ourselves. [Laughs]
Liz: The ending of this song is one of my fave parts of the live set. It’s so cheesy – the build up before the end, and Julia’s “woo!”, but it just feels right.
Julia: That was the second song we wrote as a band, and that made us feel really cooI. I remember when we wrote that, we were like, “Oh, this is heavy.” Like this is what we imagine heavy music sounds like from a bunch of folk-y heads, so that was exciting. And all I remember is just we wanted to make a heavy, sexy song, and so the lyrics were just me trying to act more sexual than I have ever appeared to be on a song.
Liz: This song just felt kinda “badass” to us (we’re not very badass). We’d dim the lights in rehearsal and just get very into it. We almost ditched this song on multiple occasions and now I think it’s my fave track.
Julia: I think Phantastic Ferniture’s made me a much better singer because a Phantastic Ferniture show is vocally really hard. By the end I’m very out of breath … It’s really broadened my range and made me think a lot more about breath control, and even just having confidence to not always try and sound nice and pretty as a female vocalist. Trying to just pull from a place of passion instead of perfection, I guess.
Liz: I think Phan Fern has shown me that strumming simple chord progressions is a saviour in terms of songwriting, but I still love riffs and my heart really lies with instrumental music. I play the role of rhythm and lead so I have to fill a lot of space and riffs make it a bit more interesting for me than just strumming chords.
"I think if we started to try and perfect everything too much, or comb over everything, I think the band would’ve ended."
Julia: We used to practice at Troy Horse all the time. Tom would maybe bring a bit of the bassline, or Liz would bring a riff, or I’d have a melody in mind and lyrics, or whatever, and then we’d go off that. But a lot of the time it was just someone would kind of throw something in and we’d all just jam on it.
Liz: Tom Stephens played a big part in writing and producing this one – I’m pretty sure he had the idea to introduce the tempo changes. I would love to have worked on this one a little more but we ran out of time (having only four years and all). I really enjoy playing the breakdown at the end. It gets a bit psychedelic and those moments are my favourite parts of the set.
Julia: I’d always hated jamming. I always found it really stressful and strange, but I think we all didn’t have any expectations … We didn’t need it to be perfect or to reflect some kind of sound that we were trying to go for. Every jam we did would produce a song. It was always like, “Ah, okay, cool. I don’t know where the hell that came from but here we are.”
Julia: We wrote that at Jubilee Rehearsal Space in Glebe under the tramline … I just remember we literally were like, “Okay, we don’t have enough songs to play shows.” We kept getting booked for shows, but we only had about six songs or something, and so we’d play ‘You’re The Voice’ by John Farnham, or ‘The Tide is High’. We’d try and just chuck in a cover – but we really wanted to play all originals.
Liz: This one started with the riff I wrote for it, in a similar way to how ‘Take it Off’ came together. Consequently I think we considered it to be ‘Take It Off (Take Two)’. But, over time it developed a bit more and took its own shape.
Julia: I think someone just had one part of it [‘I Need It’] on their phone, like some sort of idea. I don’t even remember what it was. And then it felt like it just wrote itself within about an hour. So we were like, “Sweet, we’ll play that tomorrow, then.”
“I’m just gonna gonna dance, dance baby.”
Julia: It’s going to sound lazy – and maybe it is actually, to be honest – but I think my lyric writing in this band has always been quite improvisational. A lot of the lyrics on this album literally just came out of my mouth in the moment that we wrote them, and then I always thought, “Oh, I’ll come back and I’ll redo them.” But then I didn’t … I think even though that might sound a bit cavalier in some ways.
I think for me, lyrics are something that I love. The reason why I do music is because I love to write, but I think doing it by myself a lot means that I stress over my own lyrics so much. I do draft after draft and really think about it. If I ever say anything that sounds too kind of simplistic or cliche, or has been said a million times before, I feel this pressure that I’ve got to change it even if it works. I think with Phan FernI just didn’t restrict myself in that way.
Having endlessly profound lyrics is not what this band is about … I think if we started to try and perfect everything too much, or comb over everything, I think the band would’ve ended…
Liz: I remember we named this one in a very Phan Fern way. It was literally like, “We need a name, let’s see … ‘Dark Corner Dance Floor’ done! That’s what the song is about. Just getting on the dance floor and pretending the whole thing is a dark corner where no one can see you, so you can just do your own thing. I like the production on this one. I’m pretty stoked with the guitars, they are kinda cute and playful.
Julia: I think it started with maybe Liz’s riff at the beginning, and then I just remember saying some non-incoherent bullshit at the front. I was just saying this monologue about drinking too many daiquiris and walking down the street – and it stayed. I’m pretty sure that was the first thing that came out of my mouth about three years ago.
Liz: I wrote this riff at our house in Glebe, when I was jamming with another mate. I took it to the band and we immediately developed it into a song.
Julia: The ending is my favourite thing ever to play live. It’s got a three-part harmony just singing this lyric [“mama y pappa bear say never play with fire”] that also was the first thing to come out of my mouth. I’m giving away all of our secrets here in terms of lack of meaning, but it’s weird how things become meaningful even if they don’t necessarily have meaning at the time.
Liz: Singing the outro always feels really boss and powerful, and has always been pretty hilarious to us because it sounds and looks kinda serious but we are singing “mumma y pappa bear said never play with fire”. It will be interesting touring it now that people have heard the album, and know the lyrics. I used to feel like it was this inside joke but now everyone will be in on it.