Monday, May 04, 2009

Bridezilla interview for Demo Magazine

It was love at first sight. And first listen. As I stood in a smoky underground venue tucked away amongst the brothels and strip clubs of Sydney‘s Kings Cross in the spring of 2006, I witnessed a musical performance of beauty and majesty entirely incongruous with its seedy surroundings, as one handsome guy and four pretty girls in elegant vintage attire purveyed a beguiling mix of indie, jazz and folk to a handful of punters. The band was intriguingly named Bridezilla and their musicianship was incredibly accomplished, beautiful and mature, and – if we must pigeonhole it – dissected the sound of The Velvet Underground and The Dirty Three. As a music reviewer tiring of a moribund live circuit made up of skinny-jeaned, angular-haired indieboy clones staring vacantly through fringes as they churn out second-rate Jesus and Mary Chain-inspired noise, Bridezilla’s show had a mesmerising effect on me. A kaleidoscopic frenzy of sound and movement washed over me as, amid a framework of drums and guitar, a violinist departed the stage and whizzed around the room like a whirling dervish while a saxophonist ripped the roof off with her lung-busting sax solos. Sashaying twixt them was a sassy, confident frontwoman, wonderfully named called Holiday Sidewinder, whose vocal jumped between breathily sultry and a powerful bass growl that would turn Bj√∂rk’s eyes green with envy. She wore a cat mask, robot danced and totally owned the stage. She was fifteen-years-old.

Her fellow band members were similarly tender in their years. Of them, drummer Josh Bush was the oldest, and even he wasn’t at an age where he could buy a drink from the bar. The girls were all still at school.

Fast-forward a couple of years and Josh sits wearily in the corner of a warehouse party, having spent the day at Demo’s photo-shoot. Quietly nursing a beer and avoiding the insistent buzz of the party, he peruses some photographs of the shoot on his mobile phone. A smile cracks his face – dissecting pride and disbelief that anyone would go to the trouble to take such beautiful shots of his little band. The next day, violinist Daisy Tulley is back at work in a local record store. She is slightly cranky yet still has a trademark devilish glint in her eye. Like Josh, she seems just as incredulous at the attention the Demo shoot afforded her. Unassuming doesn’t come close to describing this band’s attitude. It’s as if they have no idea that the world might just be Bridezilla’s oyster.

When frontwoman Holiday and I meet in trendy Sydney suburb Surry Hills one overcast afternoon, she has more pressing matters on her mind than an exciting future in music. “I didn’t think I’d be this busy,” she gasps as she gallops into the restaurant a few minutes late with stacks of paper under her arm. When Daisy and guitarist Pia May left school in 2007, the youngest members of the band, 17-year-olds Holiday and saxophonist Millie Hall, had another year to go, and therefore found themselves in the strange position of having to juggle being burgeoning teen icons with completing their HSCs. As if to underline such a strange juxtaposition, in the two years since I first chanced upon Holiday in Kings Cross she has gone from being a puckish brunette girl to a dazzlingly beautiful bleached blonde young lady who looks every inch the superstar frontwoman. Whether facing an audience of thousands on a festival stage or absently picking at some vegetarian sushi in an empty restaurant, the statuesque aura about her usually remains, yet, judging by her uncharacteristically weary demeanour, studying and fronting one of the country’s most exciting young bands make uncomfortable bedfellows. “I don’t have any time for school,” she sighs with a resigned glance toward the pile of paperwork on the table as the restaurant’s radio plays middle-of-the-road hits which decorate the atmosphere like beige wallpaper. “I handed in a speech that was 14 minutes long when it should have been seven. We’d gotten back from Melbourne at nine o’clock the night before it was due. I wrote it and recorded it the next morning but I didn’t have time to send it before we went to Triple J. I had to send it from ABC.”

It’s a dichotomous lifestyle that the kids from Sydney have grown used to, and, as they have all discovered since they formed, being in a band while still in education meant that, rather than being the most popular kids in school, they became increasingly detached from their peers. After all, when you spend your evenings mixing in much older circles made up of industry people and musicians, it is not hard to become alienated from the kids at school who are too young to get in to any of your gigs. While Holiday [who completed the final year of her HSC by correspondence] has confidence that belies her age when nestled comfortably within the music scene, her time at school highlighted an uncharacteristically introverted side to her, and she would spend her lunch-breaks in the library rather than hanging out in the playground. “It was awful. So depressing,” she remembers. “I changed my name to Holly because I was too embarrassed about being called Holiday. I never let anyone call me Holiday. I was also taller than other girls and a bit more developed. I don’t know…” A long pause ensues, as unhappy memories seem to bounce haphazardly around her mind, before she goes on to explain how she even tried to conform by “buying bikinis and reading Dolly magazine.” A grimace follows. “I don’t even want to talk about it.”

 Compare this to their life away from school, and the difference is night and day. “Broken Social Scene love us and stood side of stage at our shows,” Holiday beams when talk turns to how Bridezilla has a host of gushing fans within the usually too-cool-for-school indie world. “I met Spiral Stairs [aka Scott Kannberg] from Pavement. I didn’t recognize him. What happened was, I was walking with one of the guys from Broken Social Scene who I’d made friends with and he was like, ‘Oh, there’s my friend. Do you know a band called Pavement?’ I was like, ‘Do. I. Know. A. Band. Called. Pavement? Are they not my favourite band of all time?’” As she doubles over laughing at the ridiculousness of it all, I ask if meeting such a hero led to her going all tongue-tied and red-cheeked. She giggles. “No. What happened was I went up to him and he was like: ‘Hey, you’re from Bridezilla.’” More uproarious laughter follows.

Mixing with indie’s glitterati is clearly something that the quintet is still adjusting to to. Being both young and made up predominantly of females, Bridezilla had grown used to being treated with disregard by promoters and club owners. As underagers, they were often unceremoniously kicked out of toilet venues’ doors by nervous licensees the second their set finished, like the time when, having supported Midlake, Holiday and Daisy spent the headliner’s set in the alley outside the venue with their ears pressed against the stage door, trying to hear the music that emanated from within. Those days are long gone though. “At our Wilco show we went to our dressing room and there was a table cloth and a bottle of vodka and everything was really pretty. I said: ‘Oh this can’t be our room. This must be Wilco’s.’ So I just walked out, but they were like, ‘No it is your room.’” The previous time Bridezilla trod the boards at the same theatre, in support of Eskimo Joe, the five of them were crammed into a room that was the size of a closet. And not even a very big closet.

Let’s rewind to the beginning. Like so many bands, Bridezilla formed in inauspicious circumstances, more by default than anything. Their story began in Holiday’s bedroom in 2005. “We’d all sit around eating spaghetti bolognaise, playing songs and having a fun time being the losers that we were. Geeky kids talking about not having boyfriends.” Holiday smiles as she thinks back. “Millie was playing at some band camp in Bondi and they asked her if she wanted to do a song to fill a spot. She came to us and said: ‘Hey guys. We can do a show if we want.’ So we worked out a song. Pia is good with structures and Daisy was the main part. That’s how it started and then we thought it’d be nice to have a drummer. I knew Josh. He wasn’t a drummer but he used to slap his thighs all the time.” This one show soon led to more performances, and it wasn’t long before Bridezilla found record companies falling over themselves to sign them. An eponymous EP was released late in 2007 to critical acclaim.

Bridezilla’s heritage actually stretches back far further than 2005 though, and it seems that music has always flowed through their lives like blood through a vein. Holiday’s first exposure came through her mother – famed actress/musician Loene Carmen. “At age zero I was sleeping on floors and suitcases in pubs while Mum played shows,” she says, as though it was the most ordinary upbringing in the world. “I’ve been writing songs since I was two or something. I’ve still got the little scribbled down notes from when I was a kid. [sings] ‘The sun is in the sky.’” Indeed, it was Carmen’s influence that eventually gave Holiday an exit from the disaffection of school and inspired her to team up with a gang of misfits to form a band in the first place. “Lots of Mum’s friends got me tickets to shows. I saw The White Stripes and The Strokes from the side of the stage. This was when I was thirteen so of course I was pretty inspired by that.” As well as her beloved Pavement, Holiday has a love of Dolly Parton, while her Grandfather [pianist Peter Head] exposed her to blues and jazz. Millie also leans towards jazz, while also having a thing for the Rolling Stones and The Velvet Underground. Yep, these youngsters certainly desire more from their music than something catchy to have as their ringtone. Indeed, when Millie and Holiday went to see Lou Reed at Sydney’s State Theatre in 2007, they literally wept tears of joy. Most 16-year-olds wouldn’t know Lou Reed if he slapped them in the face while saying ‘I’m Lou Reed,’ yet Millie queued on the street for 12 hours overnight to buy tickets to the show. Elsewhere, the folkier aspect of Bridezilla comes from Pia, while the classical edge is Daisy’s. And as for Josh? Well, Josh has a love of Silverchair that borders on obsessive.

And so, in spring 2008, Bridezilla find themselves experiencing the calm before the storm. With Holiday and Millie finally finishing their HSCs, the band is set to head straight into the studio to record a debut album, which will hit the shelves in the next few months when, for the first time, all five members will be over 18, free from the shackles of school and ready to take on the world.

Exciting times then, and one might think being in such a position would lead to Bridezilla’s members being the wild-children of the Sydney scene who live out the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle to the max. In fact, the opposite is true. How best to illustrate this? Well, before their debut headline show, while an anticipatory crowd filled the venue, sweet-as-sugar Millie wasn’t getting pissed, bigging herself up to fans or bitching about the rider, but instead sat quietly on a sofa at the back of the venue, wearing a dress with a Winnie The Pooh logo stitched into it and reading a Charles Bukowski book. It’s fair to say that these are not your average teenagers. Even now that three of the five Bridezillians are old enough to drink, you’re still unlikely to find any of them causing a drunken scene outside a club in the early hours of the morning. Holiday explains. “I’ve become ultra conservative and anti-drugs.” She pauses briefly, her attention diverted by a passer-by she recognises. Probably someone in a band. Everyone in Surry Hills is in a band. After carefully picking up some rice remnants with her chop-sticks, she remembers her thread and continues. “I’m more conservative than I’d like to be and I almost feel like a bit of a fascist when it comes to drink and drugs. I’m a bit counter-culture, because some of my friends are taking drugs, drinking and being with as many people as possible. I was at my Uncle’s wedding and my whole family and all their friends were getting drunk. My Mum came up to me and said, ‘Come on Holiday, you and I have got to have a drink, they’re calling us pussies.’ I’ll have a glass of champagne or one vodka and lemonade, but I don’t think it emphasises things. It subdues things. For me, to feel raw emotion and to be uncomfortable in a social situation is something that you’ll learn more from than drinking and feeling overconfident.” It may seem unusual for such wise words to come from such a young person, but Holiday’s attitude sums Bridezilla up perfectly. Regardless of the fact that they look like natural-born luminaries, to dig a little deeper is to discover a straightforward bunch of music nerds who consciously stay a step outside of the scene.

And so Bridezilla look to an exciting musical future with fire in their bellies and level heads on their shoulders. Even if they become the biggest band in the world, it’s safe to assume that they’ll always remain the down-to-earth kids that they are today. They are just five dear friends making beautiful music, and the bond they have will endure, regardless of what the future brings. “We started off with such a special relationship and we love each other to death,” Holiday says with a warm smile. “Josh always says: ‘Why don’t we all just get married?’ We all feel like that. We aren’t capable of loving anyone else more than each other.”

Words and pictures by Bobby Townsend.

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