Watching Chelsea Bleach play live is like peering in on a treehouse meeting of the cool gang in your neighbourhood. Members Em, Jess, Prani, Bridget and Emma are a bunch of good mates who formed the band in a Melbourne garage in late 2014. During their shows you can count on: lots of guitars, repeated instrument swaps, cheeky lyrics and maybe even a Tatu cover if you’re lucky. Guitarist and singer, Em Gayfer, chatted to Banshee about the pleasures of making music with close friends and the band’s first ever release, ‘Public Safety’.
You were all mates before forming Chelsea Bleach — why and how did you decide to form a band? Do you remember your first practice or first show?
Em: I had been learning guitar for about six months before I felt confident enough to express the desire to be in a band. Because we are all friends, there were a number of times where a group of us were together and had conversations that ended in “we should really form a band!” – but it took a few months before we really got our shit together.
Jess decided to learn drums so that we would have a drummer and the two of us jammed a few times before we put the call out to the rest of our friends to see who was interested.
Our first few practices are all a bit of a blur to me, but I do remember that Emma initially just came to watch but we didn’t have anyone to play bass so she jumped on! And Prani was overseas when we had our first practice, so she came in after the first few. We already had two guitarists, but we really wanted to include anyone who was interested at that time, so we decided we would make it work!
How has the band progressed since forming and what have you learnt along the way?
We’ve all become way more confident, both in performance and song writing. When we first started the band, I wrote most of the songs, including my parts and other people’s parts. Now the process is a lot more collaborative and we all jam a bit more on songs, with people writing their own stuff. It’s really amazing to see the way that we’ve been able to go from our first gig in our garage, where we were all about to pass out from the fear of just playing in front of our closest friends, to now playing in front of much bigger crowds with people we don’t know, and feeling pretty comfortable.
Tell us about the single ‘Public Safety’. Who wrote it and was it inspired by specific events?
‘Public Safety’ is inspired by the feeling of being unsafe and uncomfortable in your body in public spaces. I wrote the song after a number of personal experiences of feeling unsafe walking alone at night and of feeling like I wasn’t able to take up space in certain public settings. Around the time I wrote it too, there was a lot of victim blaming rhetoric in the media surrounding a few women who were attacked and were told that they shouldn’t have been out by themselves and that essentially it was their fault they were attacked. I remember reading an article that critiqued the idea that Melbourne is the world’s “most liveable city” because who is it liveable for when women are told that they can’t walk on the streets at night alone for their own safety? That idea really resonated with me, and combined with my own personal experiences, I felt as though I wanted to write something about it.
Where was the song recorded? How did you find the recording process?
We recorded this song at Jess’s house, and Jess did all the recording, mixing and mastering. Jess had been experimenting with recording for the last few years and we totally trusted them to make us feel comfortable for our first time recording. Plus, recording with someone who is in the band means that they totally understand the sound we want. We recorded each of the instruments individually, which meant that recording took a fair bit of time, but for our first time recording it was a relatively stress-free way to do it. We were all a bit intimidated by the recording process having never done it before, and I think going to a studio and recording with some guy that we didn’t know seemed really daunting to us. It was really lucky that we were able to do it all ourselves and not feel like our music or sound was being judged. We actually recorded four songs not just ‘Public Safety’, so we have other material that we’re holding onto for now and may release a bit later in the year.
And Jess is doing recordings for other bands now (they recently worked with the amazing Pillow Pro and Ghost Dick!), so if you’re thinking of recording you should def get in touch with them via our band email.
How well does the Melbourne music scene handle the concept of public safety? How could it up its game?
As white, able-bodied musicians, we’re pretty lucky in terms of safety within the Melbourne music scene. In the past I think we’ve all been subjected to drunk men making us feel uncomfortable, however, in terms of the way we’re treated by venues and staff, we haven’t really come up against more than a few condescending sound guys here and there. Obviously that is in itself very frustrating, but compared to the violence some other women and queer people face within the music scene, we’re pretty privileged.
I have noticed recently that some venues seem to be interested in doing more to ensure a safer space for women and queer people by implementing gender neutral toilets and training security better in relation to gendered violence. However, there is still a ways to go in ensuring that women and queer people are safe at venues, and our experience is not necessarily the same as other queer, trans and GNC folks. Events such as the incredible TRANSGENRE have shown that venues can host accessible shows that are safer for a broad range of people, bookers and venues just need to catch on that it’s what needs to happen at every gig!
Chelsea Bleach is appearing in a forthcoming short documentary about what it is like to be a garage band in the 2016 Melbourne music scene. Do you have any advice for people who may be considering taking the plunge and starting a band?
Believe in yourself!! If you have thought about being in a band, you are good enough to be in a band. Men who are constantly trying to prove they are better musicians by enforcing hierarchies around musical skill, gear and technique can be super intimidating, but ultimately they provide no marker for what your music has to look/feel/sound like. We have found that in Melbourne there is a really amazing group of people who don’t believe in valuing each other’s music via these hierarchies but instead appreciate each other’s music for the way it feels and for the fact that it’s awesome that we are all out there doing something we love to do! It is a very heartwarming experience and I love seeing more and more women and queer people in bands!
Chelsea Bleach will launch their first single ‘Public Safety’ at The Old Bar on Friday 20 May. They will be joined by Wet Lips, Two Steps on the Water and HABITS DJS.