Johnny Ryall hits the Bitumen – Hard!

….And talks about the new album, bad band names, our shared love of Bobby Gillespie.. . .. . and a whole bunch of other shit with Kate and Simon from Bitumen.

Ever wanted to paint and draw? Because Bitumen do. They want to paint your world dark and draw you into an electronic, shoegaze-y industrial bliss that feels like it could become the soundtrack to the best nightmare you’ve ever had at any second. I seriously can’t get enough of this new album of theirs, their sophomore effort, Cleareye Shining, which I should mention is out now [as of the 26th November 2021] on Imprint Records, who clearly have good taste if they’re signing bands like Bitumen.

Bitumen are: Kate on vocals, Simon on bass and drum programming, Bryce on guitars and Sam on guitars and synth. They’re originally all from Hobart but one by one they made the pilgrimage to the greener pastures of Melbourne. They’re good people. I know this because I got on the phone with Kate and Simon for over an hour talking about our love of Primal Scream, The Birthday Party and so much other crap because I was drunk ….More on that later. For now you have to understand that if you like any genre on the darker or heavier or more electronic side of things you should check this out.

It’s just satisfying on so many levels…or layers. You can’t get away from the layers to these songs. The mix job is fantastic, giving room for every part to do it’s thing and blend perfectly. The album starts with their second single Paint and Draw, followed by Moving Now Now Now, which is my new favourite song right now now now. There’s 7 more songs after that one, making it 9 tracks in total on the album. There’s not a single wasted second, every track could become your favourite. The last one, Luxury Auto is another stand-out in my opinion. It starts with this minor second guitar motif that kicks in the suspense and tension, and the part relentlessly weaves in and out of the rest of the track; by the end you realise that it’s been going on the whole time and the only conclusion you can draw is that it was definitely the right thing for them to do. And as a closing track, it leaves you wanting more. Always good.

So they’ve released two singles so far, and both have accompanying videos. Out of Athens was the first to drop, even before the album came out. It’s a great first single – it captures attention by simply being a banger of a tune. The video features Kate dancing in front of a flashy-starry backdrop while Sam laughs at her and she tries to keep a straight face and not trip over the microphone cable. Although you wouldn’t know about that if I hadn’t just told you – Sam’s off-screen. Being, um, supportive I guess? But their rationale for the video concept is totally on-point “The internet likes dancing girls”, as Kate tells me. She isn’t wrong, from my observations at least.

Paint and Draw is the second single, and the better song in my opinion. The band agree with me. “Drop the better single second” Kate says. This track is more complex than Out of Athens; starting with a pulsating bass line before kicking into gear with layers of guitars that build the verses to the most perfect of zeniths before crashing back down into the suspense and tension of the choruses. The video is great too. This one features Sam in the lead role, and there’s a bit of a story going on in this one, although I forgot to ask what it was all about because I was drunk. But it starts with Sam, who is sporting a very fancy leather jacket, loitering by a Telstra Payphone until he answers a call on it, 1980’s style. He tells the caller that he’s on his way. Right now. Then he jumps in the car and there’s ghost lady when he gets to what I assume is the place where he said he was on his way to. Sam seems like a bloke who knows when he’s in over his head, and he makes a bolt for it. I would have done the same. Ghost lady was asking some pretty personal questions for a ghost I’m assuming Sam has only just met. And she has an umbrella. Although how did she have his payphone number if they were strangers? It all raises more questions than it answers, so I have to go watch it again to try and make sense of it all. *watches video again* Nope, gonna have to keep trying. Let me know if you figure it out.

In a clear example of practice making perfect, the production values have increased markedly from 2019’s Discipline Reaction when compared with the new one, Cleareye Shining. Not that Discipline Reaction isn’t worth your time – it totally is. It’s just that Cleareye Shining is a massive leap forward both int terms of production values and songwriting craft. Yes, Discipline Reaction is a pun, but it’s one that both the band and myself agree holds up even after the three years that have elapsed since it’s release.

Anyway, like I said, I caught up with Kate and Simon on the blower recently. Kate and I built a rapport over Bobby Gillespie straight away as I knew she owned a Primal Scream T-shirt with the Screamadelica album cover on it, as I saw it in the promo photos the band kindly sent me.

Johnny Ryall : Kate, I notice in your pictures you’re wearing a Screamadelica T-Shirt: that is fucking awesome..

Kate: [laughs] Yeah, I got that at um, there’s this like, I don’t know if you have it in Queensland…there’s this like, discount kind of store called [inaudible] and they have like just the most random clothes, I think that like, they’re one of those shops that buys stock from other shops that are closing down…

Johnny Ryall: Oh yep.

Kate: So like a real random mix of stuff and yeah I was in there once and they had like a rack of the…I think it was like the ’94 Screamadelica Australian Tour.

Johnny Ryall: Yep…

Kate: And I was like “This is sick, I wasn’t at the show, but I can have the T-shirt!”

Johnny Ryall: So ah, you’re a bit of a Primal Scream fan I take it?

Kate: Oh absolutely, yeah.

Johnny Ryall: Oh same! How good are they?

Kate: Oh! So good! I love Bobby Gillespie…

Johnny Ryall: Same!

Kate: I love their whole trajectory as a band…

Johnny Ryall: It’s been fascinating hasn’t it?

Kate: Mmm, yeah, because they’re [sic] like transitioned into being a more dance kind of band while still being…I don’t know, still being the guitar-y kind of rock band that they’ve always been.

…..

I could have talked about Primal Scream all day, and while we did carry on that conversation a little longer, I’ll pull myself back into line in this, the editing part of the writing phase, so that we get back to concentrating on what we were supposed to talk about.

Johnny Ryall: So what are we drinking?

Kate: I’m drinking aspirin in a big glass of water because I went out last night and I’m hungover [laughs]

Johnny Ryall: [laughs] Now you know the best thing for that is to have another drink, don’t you?

Kate: Yeah, well, yeah. I’ll get there.

Johnny Ryall: Oh well, no pressure from me. I’ve been drinking since 9am, but I’m a madman.

Kate: [laughs] Truly?

…..

Of course it’s true. Then I remembered we were doing a ‘band interview’…and thought I should talk about ‘The Band’….like as in Bitumen, the band I was interviewing two members of.

Johnny Ryall: I really love your band, I just found it randomly about a month ago; I was watching RAGE….and I was like, HOLY SHIT, THIS IS REALLY FUCKING GOOD….. PEOPLE NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THIS BAND!

Kate: Oh man that’s so good. I’m glad RAGE paid off for us.

Johnny Ryall: Yeah I’ve got to ask, how did you manage to get them to play it, like is it an easy thing to do, or….?

Kate: Um, I think because we’re part of that Flash Forward program, where like the City of Melbourne gave like bands a bunch of money to make an album like, through COVID times.

Johnny Ryall: Oh really?

Kate: Yeah so we got like, like they’re pressing the album for us and they like um, yeah gave us money to make the videos and shit; it was an excellent deal for us.

Johnny Ryall: That is super cool!

Kate: Yeah! And they had like, sort of their own PR people working for all the Flash Forward bands, and I think they had a hook-up at RAGE.

Johnny Ryall: Oh ok…..

Kate: Yeah, they just sent it off and..I’m really surprised it got on but….

Johnny Ryall: Well, it did.

…..

Johnny Ryall: So how did you come up with the name Bitumen? What’s that about?

Kate: Good question; I think we were like we wanted it to be one word, we wanted it to be kind of, something industrial. I think the earlier there’s a lot of things that like…like we had a gig booked, our first show coming up, and we still hadn’t decided on a name and we just kind of like got stuck on bitumen and were like oh yeah, fuck it, Bitumen, like ….

Johnny Ryall: Yeah,

Kate: We didn’t think about it too hard. I think I even like, we were practising at Simon’s house at that time, in his shed and I think he had the like the fridge magnet letters and I think I put it on the fridge one practice.

Simon: Really?

Kate: Yeah, on the side of the fridge, and like we were….I think AstroTurf was also tossed up….Thank god we didn’t go with that!

Simon: Yeah!

Johnny Ryall: Yeah, nah I think you went with the better option there.

Kate: Yeah for sure. And oh that was the other thing: We thought it would be funny that Americans say it wrong, like they say “Bit-oo-men”

Johnny Ryall: Do they really?

Kate: Yeah cause they just call it asphalt, or whatever.

Johnny Ryall: Oh yeah they say “ASS-Fault”.

Kate: Yeah, yeah, and like “Bit-oo-men.” I’ve heard like a couple of times when we’ve got played on like American radio if you listen back they’re like “the band Bitoomen” it’s just…. I don’t know. It cracks me up every time

Johnny Ryall: Fuckin’ hell, some people, you just can’t help ’em hey?

Johnny Ryall: What is everybody’s role in the band?

Kate: I don’t play anything else [aside from singing] but we sort of are very collaborative in that we, like, write the songs together…

Johnny Ryall: Yep, yep…

Kate: Simon, you do more than it says on the piece of paper [press release]

Simon: Yeah, I guess. I mean I play bass and then do a lot of the drum programming….

Johnny Ryall: Oh yeah…

Simon: But with input from everyone else as far as drum programming…. and synths as well.

Johnny Ryall: Oh yeah cause I noticed you didn’t seem to have a drummer, um and I said to myself that’s sensible because I haven’t been able to work with a drummer in years, you know, I just can’t do it. I use drum machines…

Kate: well it makes it easier to get around

Johnny Ryall: yeah well that’s it – no lugging the shit everywhere

Kate: yeah totally

Johnny Ryall: yeah drum machines are pretty light! Yeah! So who else is in the band?

Kate: We’ve got Bryce on guitar, and Sam also on guitar

…..

Then I asked them something about getting around Australia to tour, and they said this:

Simon: Brisbane have been so nice to us, I have to say.

Kate: Yeah…

Simon: I think Brisbane is our second home in a way.

Johnny Ryall: Really? So it even beats out Hobart?

Kate: Yeah…. we’ve played some really fun shows in Brisbane, I mean..yeah..

Simon: I think that people in Brisbane get what we do a bit more maybe it’s a bit of that kind of small town, Tassie thing.

Johnny Ryall: Yeah oh we are basically an overgrown country town..it’s yeah it’s who and what we are.

Simon: Yeah well we’ll be doing some good shows up in Brisbane when we get a chance to tour I think.

Johnny Ryall: Please do! I can’t wait to see yous, I’m spewing that I missed you last time but you know, I just didn’t know that you existed then..yeah, my bad I guess.

…..

Johnny Ryall: What artists made you decide that “fuck yeah, I’m gonna be a rock n’ roller?”

Kate: I guess like ..when we first started…our tastes have changed a lot in the last..however many years we’ve been a band…how many years have we been a band? Six years?

Simon: Six or something, yeah

Johnny Ryall: Since 2016 according to your bio! So yeah you’re getting up to your sixth year now.

Kate: Yeah, so when we first started we were all absolutely like….The Birthday Party..

Johnny Ryall: The Birthday Party! I fuckin’ love The Birthday Party!

Kate: Yeah yeah all that like yeah, the Melbourne goth-y, punk shit and then like that was probably Sam and Bryce and me, were very obsessed with that.

Simon was like, you were a bit different

Simon: Yeah, maybe a bit more like Bauhaus, Sisters of Mercy, heaps of Godflesh….

Johnny Ryall: Ah yep, all good bands!

Simon: Long time Justin Broadrick fan, so anything that Justin Broadrick does I’m very into…I think personally that I feel like I follow his trajectory and like…

Johnny Ryall: Yep –

Simon: Maybe almost in reverse in terms of like getting into dub driven techno and gabber, but [in] 2016 we were very much goths.

Anyway we talked about a whole bunch of other cool shit but that will have to come in Part II, because if I don’t at least pretend that I have a deadline on this article then Bitumen will have a new album out before I’ve even told you to go and listen to this one. Anyway it’s late and I’m drunk and tired and cranky, so don’t fuck with me. Just go onto YouTube and listen to Cleareye Shining by Bitumen. And love it as much as I do. I know you want to.

Bitumen | Facebook

Cleareye Shining | Bitumen (bandcamp.com)

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