THE GOTHIC PUNK OF RULE OF THIRDS: Interview, Review, + US Tour Dates
Rule of Thirds‘ self-titled debut LP will be released in a few weeks on Mass Media in the US, on keyboardist Lewis Ratboy’s No Patience label in their native Australia, and in Europe on Desire Records (What a trifecta of great labels, by the way). The Adelaide gothy postpunk band’s Midnight Over America tour is also set to begin on April 1st with four (!) shows in the Los Angeles area followed by a host of others across the country, all listed below.
From the first song – the entrancing, seductive, and deliberately-paced “Any War” – the new LP comes across as a more focused, even sophisticated, affair than their two previous efforts, the 2013 “Altars” EP and the 2012 demo. The earlier Rule of Thirds material had a grittier sound – it harkened back to the early 80s L.A. deathrock of the Superheroines, 45 Grave and Voodoo Church. This new 9 song LP, however, feels more British – more in line with the nuanced early gothic rock of Skeletal Family and Juju-era Siouxsie and the Banshees. This is a band, after all, that told Zero Tolerance zine in 2013, “We’re much more Joy Division, Skeletal Family, or Christian Death than, say, Killing Joke, Amebix, or The Mob” (I ask the band about this quote in the interview below). In all, this self-titled LP is as good as contemporary dark postpunk gets; it’s an essential document of modern dark music. The interview below allowed me the chance to ask about the band’s sonic evolution as well as their upcoming US shows.
One thing that immediately jumps out at you is how thick Rule of Thirds’ self-titled 2015 LP is on atmosphere and mood. Freya’s vocals provide the dark center to Rule of Third’s sonic conjurings: She’s a strong singer – but not overpowering – and her vocals have a slightly witchy feel; you feel like she might start speaking incantations in Latin, or more likely in a heathen and non-Christian language, at any moment. Celeste and Ben’s guitars take their postpunk-y cues from Stan Greenwood (Skeletal Family) and John McGeoch. And although Rule of Thirds, like their colleagues in Lost Tribe, are a sextet, their sound is amazingly restrained and meticulous; you would never suspect there are six humans playing here. Their gloominess is the result of a meticulous building of sonic tension and not from the blunt bashing out of power chords. Dieter’s bass and Tom’s drums provide the skeletal scaffolding around which the rest of the band weave sometimes-slashing-and-dissonant, sometimes spidery-and-melodic, guitar and synthesizer lines.
Keyboardist Ratboy (aka Lewis G. of The Vaginors) states that, when it comes to Rule of Thirds’ older material versus the tracks on the new LP, “originally, several of the members were playing instruments or doing things they hadn’t really done before, and as a result the tracks were somewhat limited by our abilities. Changing the lineup around [for the LP] allowed people to focus more clearly on an element they could take better control over. The tracks we are writing now demonstrate this.” Guitarist Celeste agrees, and says, “our newer tracks certainly reflect a clarity in songwriting which the band has approached but not quite maintained thus far, a sound more uniquely Australian, a la early Hunters and Collectors meets Microfilm.”
The drumming on “Windfell” is a heavy-on-the-toms, tribal affair with minimal cymbal contact that recalls the UK positive punk of bands like Sex Gang Children and Killing Joke. And the guitar work on “Pleasure Hive,” which is one of my favorite songs on the LP, is snaky and mysterious, ritualistic, showcasing an otherworldly guitar line that Rikk Agnew might have written in 1982. The seventh song, “Blue and Red,” is a bouncey, fun, dark dance number. I can imagine it’s one of the more well-received and energizing tracks in the band’s live repertoire, a throwback to the slightly more aggressive songs on their demo and on “Altars.” The LP as a whole starts out cautiously and deliberate, building methodically to dancier, more aggressive, and more tribal tracks. The punk in me likes the second half of the LP the best: my inner goth prefers the first half.
Rule of Thirds’ music also resonates with the sound of mid-period deathrock from the late 1990s and early 2000s – female-fronted, spooky bands like Black Ice, the Subtonix, the Vanishing, and Veronica Lipgloss and the Evil Eyes (it’s 2015, gang, so stuff from the 1990s is now “mid-period,” as jarring as that may seem). I don’t see many bands cite these groups nowadays, but Rule of Thirds’ excellent take on the genre has some precedent with them. The more contemporary points of reference for Rule of Thirds would include bands like Crimson Scarlet, Dead Cult, Blue Cross, and Belgrado, all bands that, like the Thirds, have roots in underground DIY punk and also have anarcho leanings buried in the songs and ideology. The anarcho-punk flavoring is perhaps best evinced by Rule of Thirds’ cover art here: A sea of flowers is blocked from the viewer by a chain link fence, an image symbolic of either the taming/constraining of nature or the imprisonment of the observer from the enjoyment of a natural, liberatory life. Or does the photo depict bunches of flowers hung up and caught in the links in the fence? French anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon wrote: “Laws: We know what they are, and what they are worth! They are spider webs for the rich and mighty, steel chains for the poor and weak, fishing nets in the hands of the government.” Maybe the cover photo means all of these things — or maybe it means none of them, and it’s just a pretty picture, plain and simple.
Rule of Thirds will be playing 27 dates in the US and Canada, including a gig at the New York’s Alright Fest. Dates and interview below.
Rule of Thirds members interviewed include Freya (vocals), Celete (guitars), and Ratboy/Lewis (synths). They were interviewed in March, 2015 by Oliver.
For folks who may be reading about you for the first time, can you give some basic info: Where Rule of Thirds is from, who founded the band, and who was in the original lineup versus who is in it now?
Celeste: Rule of Thirds is six babes from Adelaide, Australia, the end of the line before Perth, which is the next capital city 2 solid days driving to the west. Medium-sized retirement village with a surplus of great bands rarely acknowledged by the rest of Oz. Home to the highest serial killer quota per capita and highways with only 2 lanes. Started out 3 years ago as a female dominated 5-piece, with only one lost and one added member, but two line-up changes.
Freya: Me squealing, I used to play synth but am focusing on my hair presence instead. Ben and Celeste have always been on guitar. Dieter was originally on drums but now bass, Lewis at one time on bass and now synth. Tom came in after our EP and will forevermore play drums. The first members were Celeste, Ben and myself.
For someone who hasn’t heard your music, how would you describe it? I’ve seen the terms “dark punk,” “postpunk,” “deathrock,” and “goth punk” used to describe your sound. Is that appropriate? What sort of sound did you all have in mind when writing material for Rule of Thirds?
Celeste: The songs fit somewhere in the realm of post-punk, with consideration of early post-punk’s pop tendencies and, for the newer songs, a large helping of new-wave worship. They aren’t dark, death or goth to me, but I certainly acknowledge the lineage of those genres.
One of my favorite quotes from you all is from an interview you did with Zero Tolerance zine in February 2013, wherein you all stated, “We’re much more Joy Division, Skeletal Family, or Christian Death than say Killing Joke, Amebix, or The Mob.” I like that you all were so specific in your approach! Do you think that with the new LP this is still the sonic lineage you’re abiding by?
Ratboy: That quote was from me. I was attempting to clarify our musical position as being separate from the sorts of contemporary bands people most often associate with us. We are trying to do our own thing in regards to style and sound, and whilst we may sit alongside many of the current wave of dark post-punk bands, I feel we are coming from a different musical background and represent our own unique approach.
Celeste: Definitely not. I don’t think it was something we were abiding by then either, but it was a way to differentiate between our intention and sound. There is a strong ‘pop’ element to our music, which doesn’t mean it’s vapid, “fuck-me-now”-style Britney shit (which I personally love anyway), but it’s accessible, it’s about communicating the lyrics, it’s about hooks, it’s about dancing.
Over the years, with the 2 line up changes, working toward this album has been a slow process and our influences have been a bit disparate. However, our newer tracks certainly reflect a clarity in songwriting which the band has approached but not quite maintained thus far, a sound more uniquely Australian a la early Hunters and Collectors meets Microfilm. So we’re excited about returning home to record and what will happen next.
About the band’s name – I know it refers to an old rule of thumb in art or photography, but can you explain why you chose it and what it means to you all? Who chose the name? Is it any relation to the Death in June (now also fellow Australians!) 2007 LP also called “The Rule of Thirds”?
Celeste: You got it about the art/photography rule. While I am an artist, I didn’t choose it, but I’m democratic. Just the same, I like the Death in June album, but it’s not my fave. Also, this doesn’t relate to the name choice, but by coincidence Douglas P. happens to live in the same city as us and is occasionally sighted at gigs in DI6 merch. Real cute.
Freya: Our other guitarist Ben suggested the name. He’s a photographer so I think that significantly appealed to him. It’s familiar to me from proportions in regards to facial symmetry, as in the position of the eyes, nose and mouth. Also there are Fibonacci numbers and the golden ratio, orders and patterning that appear in nature that are mirrored in human constructions. The idea of a trinity is powerful symbolically such as the three mothers from Argento films even though their back-story is very haphazardly conveyed. I find more examples of the rule occurring all the time and get a jolt of awe and paranoia from it. Which is just indicative of the need to grasp at meaningfulness. Douglas P. living up the road is another bizarre example.
The new LP, which I love, seems a more nuanced, more complex affair than the previous material. Was this on purpose, a natural progression, or…? Was there a sound you were searching for with the album that you felt you hadn’t achieved on the EP and demo?
Freya: The change was as expected. The songs on the record were almost exactly the next nine songs we wrote as a group, and with the change in lineup that made some things simpler and some more difficult. Some of the songs are from over two years ago now, so there is a great distance between them and the EP. There is much more colour to it.
Ratboy: I think settling on a more solid lineup has been a big part of that. Originally several of the members were playing instruments or doing things they hadn’t really done before, and as a result the tracks were somewhat limited by our abilities. Changing the lineup around allowed people to focus more clearly on an element they could take better control over. The tracks we are writing now demonstrate this, the sound is shifting and I anticipate the next album will be a lot less guitar driven.
What do you feel are some of the biggest musical influences on the band, and how do they shine through in the recorded output? What are band members’ favorite bands?
Freya: The other projects we’re involved in are a fairly good representation of our interests I guess. The way Celeste and Ben play guitar is very revealing about their personalities I think, and the way they make their art more than direct musical influences. I want to sing like Kate Bush and Tex Perkins but fall very short of approaching either.
Celeste: Other bands that members play in include a 70s rock’n’roll band that sits somewhere between Deep Purple and Thin Lizzy (Hydromedusa); a Malaria and Talking Heads-esque post-punk band (Young Professionals); noise-punk a la The Swankys (Vaginors); Dario Argento inspired synth-duo (Deep Red); a Kleenex style gang-vox-a-thon (Theta); so I guess that reflects some of the diverse tastes, influences, and fave bands.
What do you think of the current goth-punk or postpunk and deathrock revival in the punk and hardcore scenes? Why do you think it’s come about, is it a passing “trend,” and who are some of the better exemplars of the movement?
Freya: I would say there is a new attempt at a style every decade or less, when a new bunch of brats are old enough to start voicing their shame in public. Celeste and I wanted to start this band about five years ago and now we’ve been together for three. It is providential that others have appeared with sympathetic leanings.
Ratboy: I think the passing of time gives clarity to music that may not have existed previously. 30 years on and we start drawing connections and constructing musical parameters that begin to collate a broad scope of bands and artists neatly into little boxes. As a result, these musical forms become bite-sized morsels to be easily digested by a wider underground audience and in turn we see more people emulate their style and incorporate their influence. This accounts for a spike in interest perhaps more than a revival.
I’m not sure if it’s a trend, so to speak. I think interest will mellow, but the engaging elements to emerge from the last couple of years will be reabsorbed into whatever the next wave of bands will be doing and continue to have influence. Like any spike in interest, most of the bands that emerge will not stand the test of time and, knowing that, I think I am critical of most contemporary bands.
Celeste: As for better exemplars of the movement, the bands I like don’t quite fit the bill for the revival, or are on the more electronic side. On this tour I’m particularly excited about seeing Anasazi, Survival, Institute, Pleasure Leftists, off the top of my head. Current Australian faves (for the sake of educating an audience beyond Oz, which can be hard) include Orion, Lakes, TOL, Multiple Man, Meat Market/Second Sight, Young Professionals…
Have you all been to the United States before? You’re touring – what are your expectations, fears, etc.? I notice you’re playing a lot of punk shows, which is as it should be, but sometimes I really wish that what I think of as the “mainstream goth” crowd, the ones who have “moved on,” for some reason, to 90s style electronic/”industrial”-dominated dancey fetish club crap, would come to see bands like you guys, since to me your sound ties foundationally into the roots of “goth,” which was punk – bands like Voodoo Church, UK Decay, Rubella Ballet, 45 Grave, etc. Have you found that you get a crossover audience with the nowadays-very-divergent punk and goth scenes, or are you still attracting folks from mainly one of those camps? And if so, why do you think that is?
Celeste: Regarding crossover, some people in that more ‘trad’ and (what I see as) club-based goth scene do come to see us in Australia, but not many. In some ways, while they’re extreme in aesthetic, it’s so camp it becomes endearing and playful. I‘m all for play myself. I’m unsure what it’s like in the US, but in Australia that scene is a bit older, so I think it’s more to do with the negatives of live music they’re probably over. But not participating in that myself I can’t wholly comment.
Live music in Australia is different altogether to the States. Most cities (besides Melbourne) have small music scenes, which means there is no one camp that will attend your shows. In the city we are from, the best people are what I will call just absolute freaks. They’re the true punks in my eyes. Most ‘punks’ I couldn’t really care two shits about.
Ratboy (synth) and myself have been to the States before, he with his band Vaginors, so that’s been a huge help and thus there are some more punk shows on the itinerary. That suits our tastes also. In all honesty, I don’t have huge expectations. I’m from a small city in Australia and while I want to play good shows, I don’t have an agenda or an ego to soothe. As long as I don’t have my entry refused, get stuck in Canada, get thrown in jail, get shot, end up with traveler’s gastro, have a car crash, or get my gear stolen, then I am happy to just meet new people and play with some rad bands.
Where can folks go to buy the new LP and find out more info about you all? Thank you all so much for the interview. Looking forward to catching you all play in Texas!
Ratboy: The LP is available now digitally through all the usual places online, but physical copies will be out this week in the USA through Mass Media Records, out may in Australia through Nopatience records, and shortly afterwards in Europe through Desire Records. The cheapest and easiest way to get your hands on a physical copy is to contact which ever label is in your region. All have online stores you can order direct. Failing that, good independent stores and distros should have copies fairly promptly, or (if you’re in north America) grab one from us on tour.
TOUR DATES AND INFO:
There is a Facebook event page for Rule of Thirds’ North American tour here. That’s where the following dates are from:
01 – LA – https://www.facebook.com/events/1554854191470654/
02 – LA – https://www.facebook.com/events/1589551464618264/
03 – LA – https://www.facebook.com/events/416993548460287/
04 – LA – https://www.facebook.com/events/1570392433216589/
06 – DALLAS (Denton) – https://www.facebook.com/events/1537506373176502/
07 – AUSTIN – https://www.facebook.com/events/874185029269898/
08 – NEW ORLEANS – https://www.facebook.com/events/720690954717949/
09 – MEMPHIS – https://www.facebook.com/events/1399158723724520/
10 – KANSAS CITY
11 – CHICAGO – https://www.facebook.com/events/1406046549697761/
12 – TORONTO – https://www.facebook.com/events/796945753718943
13 – OTTAWA – https://www.facebook.com/events/443387405817674/
14 – MONTREAL – https://www.facebook.com/events/1453922751564553
15 – PROVIDENCE
17 – NEW YORKS ALRIGHT FEST – https://www.facebook.com/events/1542916039296923/
20 – PHILLY (with SURVIVAL) – https://www.facebook.com/events/954515257899550/
21 – RICHMOND (with SURVIVAL) – https://www.facebook.com/events/575786552556436/
22 – PITTSBURG (with SURVIVAL)
23 – CLEVELAND (with SURVIVAL) – @ Now That’s Class w/ Pleasure Leftists / Nervosas
24 – ROCHESTER – https://www.facebook.com/events/670743393034442/
25 – NYC – https://www.facebook.com/events/1552647011653253
26 – SEATTLE – @ Black Lodge
27 – VANCOUVER
28 – OLYMPIA
29 – PORTLAND – https://www.facebook.com/events/349112788625557/
30 – SAN FRAN
MAY 01 – OAKLAND @ first church of the buzzard w: Zana Nera, Bitter Fruit, and Ails