Tom Gordon (Horror My Friend) and Aston Valladares (TOWNS) sit down for a chat to discuss all things music, including Horror My Friend's new album 'repaper', out now.
Aston: Wanted to open up with a lighthearted one before we get deep. I would like to know where in your life you’ve had the best hot chip, or fried potato sort of wedge, shoestring. Where is a time you’ve had a hot chip that’s blown your mind? You know, it could be Maccas, but curious to see what you say.
Tom: Chicken Chef in Adelaide is real good. That one’s heaps good. Have you had that?
A: Yeah, Chicken Chef’s great.
T: And then the other one would be Chicko’s in Wollongong, which is just like a hella famous chicken shop.
A: Why didn’t you tell me about that!? I had no idea.
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T: You should go next time! You’ll be back. Do it, do it.
A: It’s so hard cause Dan’s vegan, so whenever we go to the Gong it’s like, “Oh, where can we go to eat that’s vegan?” So chicken shops just usually get knocked out.
T: Well, it’s in Wollongong, it’s this massive chicken shop with, like, screens to order from. And they’ve got like a regular burger which is probably the size of a double quarter pounder, and then they have larger or grande or something like that. And it’s huge, but I also go grande. Chicko’s - you should do it. But when I first moved to Wollongong, I thought it was pronounced 'Cheeko’s' and everyone was making fun of me for a really long time. Embarrassing. That’s actually why I’m leaving Wollongong.
Anyway, who is your favourite member of Towns - you or Dan? And why? Like, why is it the person you like, and why is it the person you don’t like? Not saying you necessarily don’t like the other person, but I wanna know the reasoning.
A: I think I like elements of both of us and dislike elements of both of us, you know what I mean? As one human who is Towns, we do create like one pretty decent person.
But I am going to say Dan because I like Dan a lot more than I like me. I think that Dan - it’s so hard because I’m pretty bad at talking myself up, like whenever I have to write a resume and stuff, I’m always like, “You know, I’m not bad at this, but all good!”. I’m so bad at being positive about my experiences and skills, so I think I just have to say Dan by default. But I think there are just so many things that Dan does that I’m like, “Oh, I wish I could do that”. Like Dan just sort of doesn’t work and gets to hang out and print shirts and wakes up whenever they want, and I think I’m just like, “I want that”. So I think that’s why I like Dan because they live so free and I think I don’t live free. That’s where my answer lies, I think.
T: Yeah, you’re at work right now.
A: I’m at work, and Dan’s not. Dan is probably playing Xbox or looking for hard rubbish around his local suburb.
T: I feel like you’re both as lovely as each other, though. I wanted to ask that question because you’re both very, very nice, whereas, with Horror, we routinely get “Oh, Josh is so nice!”. If you asked anyone, I feel like everyone would be like “Josh Battersby” cause it’s like no competition.
A: Really? I’ve actually spoken to Josh the least.
T: Oh, wow, okay. Everyone’s just like, “He’s the nicest person”.
A: It’s just Josh is the person I’ve spoken to the least. I’ve spoken to you and Sam the most easily. I’m not saying he’s not nice, I’m saying that by the time spent with Horror My Friend members, then yeah.
T: There you go.
A: If you could tell yourself anything on your first day of learning guitar, what would it be? If current Tom went back to little Tom and said, “Hey, this thing you’re about to do, the best advice I can teach you is this…”
T: Oh, just definitely that guitar scales don’t matter.
A: So, did you do lessons?
T: Yeah, I did lessons throughout primary school and high school, and that was fun. And then I got really into Sonic Youth because it’s all like really dissonant and atonal, and they don’t use scales or anything, they make up chords and do whatever they want and use completely whack tunings. I remember getting really excited about it and going to my guitar teacher and was like, “Hey, I really like Sonic Youth. Can we learn this?” And he was like, “Never listen to that band ever again, they’re so bad, they’re terrible, they don’t even know how to play their instruments,” and was just ragging on them. And cause I looked up to this guy for so long, I was just like, “Okay, I will never do it again. I will never do it again”. And then, until the end of high school, I didn’t listen to them anymore, and then after high school, I listened to them again and realised how wrong he was.
A: I can’t believe a teacher crushed your dreams like that so quickly.
T: Look, he was a good dude. But what did he like? He liked Steve Vai, I think. The guy with the Ibanez guitar with the handle. He had like 5 of those guitars.
A: Weird concept, that guitar handle thing. Because I’ve never felt that a guitar to carry is so inconvenient that it needed the handle. So what you would’ve told yourself is, “Hey, don’t listen to your teacher - Sonic Youth rock”?
T: Yeah. On the topic of unsolicited advice - I know you get this question a lot, so I’ve worded it a bit differently. There are heaps of great bands that started out as two pieces, like Hockey Dad and Dunies, but later added a bass player. Would you ever do it, and do you think it’s actually needed? Do you actually need a bass player? Like, not just you, but do people actually need a bass player? Would you just do it forever without it?
A: I think that Towns doesn’t need a bass player, but that’s purely on a relationship level. It’s like asking a married couple if they want to go poly. Well, I’m pretty happy, and I think if you’re pretty happy, then I don’t think you need to add a third person. But in saying that, when I started playing guitar, I played bass for a year and a half. That was the first thing I did. I didn’t know about guitar, I was just like, “Oh, I’m going to learn bass cause it’s way easier”. And looking at like Mark Hoppus and his basslines and stuff, I was like, “This is great! So stoked, bass is awesome”. And then I just sort of fell into the guitar. But some bands benefit so much from a bass player. Like Camp Cope - Kelly, the bass player, is such a significant part of that band. So, it’s like bands will always need bass players, but I think that some bands don’t use their bass players to the extent that bass players should or could be used to. I want bass players to play lead lines, like New Order and Joy Division. Some of the bass lines they do are sick. The Cure, as well. But when it’s just following the chords. Yeah, then I don’t think you need it. Like then, I think it’s just adding sonic stuff that you could probably find elsewhere in today’s digital age. I love bass, though.
T: Do you split the signal?
A: I used to, for so long.
T: Do you not do that anymore?
A: Nah, I used to send one channel through a bass amp and EQ out all the highs and turn it an octave down, and it sounded fine, it sounded sick. But I think at the end of the day, even if we sounded shit or we sucked, I don’t think we’d add a bass player. Because Dan and I just feel like this and another hand would not be a handshake. That was a good question - you worded it differently!
T: Yeah, I didn’t want to ask the question of, like, why don’t you have a bass player? Because I don't think that people actually definitely need it, you know what I mean?
A: I was going to ask - I’m curious, just to get to know you a little better, which celebrity do you think would make a great personal friend to you and why? Could be an actor, musician, poet, anything. They can be dead or alive, too, let’s say that.
T: As like a friend? Someone just to hang out with?
A: Yeah, just from what you know about them. What personality traits do they have that make you think you’d have a good time together?
T: Oh, I forget this guy’s name. What’s the guy that got called Sexiest Man Alive last year or something like that? But he’s like hell normal, he’s just a dude.
A: Paul Rudd!
T: Paul Rudd, yeah, yeah. I love Paul Rudd. There’s nothing to it, he just seems like a nice guy. That’s it, that’s literally it. He just seems really nice and down to earth. And there’s a lot of actors that I think are good, but I don’t like them because you can just tell that they probably have big egos, but he just seems nice. Same with Steve Carell. But I feel like Steve Carell would be more of a mentor figure.
A: It’s so crazy that you say that, though. Because when I was writing these questions, I was doing my own answers, and Paul Rudd was right up there. Jason Segel would probably be another one. They’re both in that movie I Love You, Man - that movie growing up to me, was like one of my favourite comedy movies of all time. It’s about him trying to find a friend to be in his wedding. So I was like, “Well, I want to be Paul Rudd’s friend”.
T: That’s just mind-blowing that you also said Paul Rudd. I can see that with Jason Segel as well.
A: Yeah, same thing. They just look like two good people that you’d want to hang out with that don’t seem to have egos. And that’s pretty much all I’m looking for.
T: Yeah, for real. Jason Segel’s cool. I feel like that was always the thing with How I Met Your Mother when I was a kid cause I never liked Ted that much.
A: Me neither! Ted sucks!
T: And Barney also obviously sucks. But Jason Segel was always really nice. I was like “He’s the only nice one”.
A: Yeah, I think that’s probably where my love of him stems from as well - How I Met Your Mother and just being this gentle, loving person.
T: You’d love Josh. Battersby is exactly like Jason Segel, I reckon. Just a nice, big guy. You should hang out.
This is a bit more general but are there any really new, really young Adelaide bands that you’re excited about that have just started out? And you don’t have to say, “Oh, this is my favourite band”. I don’t think music is like that. But what are you just excited about?
A: I saw them recently - The Tullamarines, cause they just opened for Sophisticated Dingo. They all came from different bands, and they’ve started The Tullamarines. It’s a four-piece band, and they’re all songwriters, so in their set - not that I get bored watching music, but obviously being around music a lot, there’s definitely times where I just kind of tune out, go and grab a drink - but when I was watching them, I just couldn’t look away, because each one of them just had a shining moment throughout the set. With some bands that are four-pieces or five-pieces even, there’s like one focal point, and you’ll sometimes look around. But I was darting around trying to watch all of them because they all do this incredible songwriting, musicianship thing. So they’re a cool band, definitely one of my top ones.
And then, Sunsick Daisy. Their guitarist Kane could not be a bigger Horror My Friend fan. And it’s like watching Kane play is like watching a baby version of you and Batters play, like everything is the same.
T: Oh, I love them so much. Kane is the best. It was nice hearing that song Someone Like You. That song is so good, and the guitar lines are so good too. I love it. It’s very Sweater Curse.
A: Which, again, is another favourite band of Kane’s. They’re a cool band as well, and seeing them from where they started. Cause I remember seeing one of their first shows ever to seeing where they are now, and just the growth in such a short amount of time. It’s pretty rare to see, some bands just find a formula and stick with it, but they are just evolving so quickly. I’m just excited to see where the evolution goes.
T: I find it so wild when you see a band that’s so young like that, and they’re just so good. That song is just such a well-written song, and they’re just obviously great musicians. I was so bad for so long at that age.
A: Yeah, I sucked. But also, I think what’s cool for them now, even using people like you as an example, is that so many Adelaide bands now have good role models. I think growing up I didn’t have heaps of good Adelaide band role models. Growing up in the heavy scene, it was quite dog-eat-dog, and we’re cool and tough, and you’re a new band so we don’t care about you. Now, I feel like Adelaide’s very nurturing of new bands and it’s like “No, we do want you to see you play, we want more bands in the scene”. So I think that mindset is definitely helping new bands start, so we’re seeing more of it, which is cool.
T: Yeah, I back that one hundred per cent.
A: Tell me about a time on tour where you’ve felt very appreciative, and it’s been surreal to be out and about playing music somewhere. A moment or a show or a day where it’s clicked in your head and you’ve been like “This is sick”.
T: There’s been a couple. I think the biggest one would’ve been when we released our first record and did the album release at Jive. I feel like that was a big moment for us and people were actually there, and they knew our songs, and we were like, “What the actual fuck is going on?”. That was just like a really perfect moment, and we were just all really, really happy. I feel like Towns would’ve had that kind of moment as well, where you go to a big show or a show that feels big for you, and it’s your own show, and it goes really well, and people were there singing your songs with you, and you’re like “How the fuck did this happen? That people care about this?”.
That’s one, and then obviously, we did a tour with Hockey Dad and DZ in Canada in November, December of 2019. That was definitely the most incredible tour we’ve ever done. Canada I’ve just always loved, and I always wanted to go there, so just to go there and get to play every night, and the shows were really good. It was a lot of imposter syndrome. I feel like you almost get into that moment, and you try to appreciate it and be present with it, but it’s hard to as well because you feel like you can’t properly do it, I don’t know.
A: I think, like, imposter syndrome, while it’s such a weird feeling, I guess it’s also a sign of growth and stuff too. Obviously, anytime you feel it, you’re not feeling like you deserve to be there, but you are because you’re there. I definitely know the feeling. That’s sick, though. How many dates was Canada?
T: Maybe like ten or eleven? It was awesome, we were on a tour bus, too, so it all just felt super surreal. It felt like what you see when you’re a kid about bands touring in the states or North America.
It was freezing over there. I remember we played a show in Winnipeg, and it was like minus 35 degrees or something like that. I remember seeing that that was how cold it got there, but I couldn’t actually fathom what that would feel like. We were really scared. So we started off in Vancouver, and it was minus one, and we were like, “This is really cold,” but then we did the Winnipeg show, which was fucked, it was absolutely fucked. And I remember we had to catch a flight to go to Toronto, and it was minus 35, we walked across the road, and I had really long hair at the time, so by the time it took us to walk across the road, all my hair froze, and all my nose hair froze, so I had to like unfreeze all my hair in the car. It was wild, but that was definitely the time when I was like, “This is incredible”.
A: Even just having the stories to back it up, that’s magic. I’m jealous, I wanna go to Canada now.
T: Lots of people describe Towns as pop-punk, right? Do you like pop or punk better?
A: Right, so I think where people probably get it from is Dan is such a big pop fan. Like, Dan’s Spotify Wrapped is like Pink, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, genuinely just 2010’s pop. Dan loves a hook. But I think me growing up, I loved the aggression and the speed of punk, bands like Gorilla Biscuits and Descendants and Adolescents and The Attics and all those fast bands that I grew up loving. While we don’t sound like that, I think it’s definitely always going to be there. I just love when stuff like punches you in the face, whether that’s a positive punch or an aggressive punch. And that’s literally where pop- punk comes from, it’s like the hooks of pop music with the aggression of punk music. So I love punk way more. There’s definitely pop songs that I love to death, but I think that if you looked at my playlists, it would be way more punk than pop, and Dan would be the opposite.
T: Do you think that if Dan wasn’t in the band, the music would be heavier? If you had like a different drummer?
A: The thing is, it’s so funny because Dan loved heavy music growing up too, but I think Dan now is such a pop person, so that’s probably where Towns is going. But in saying that, I’ve always thought that whenever I’ve written solo stuff, it’s always gone the direction of, you know, DIIV?
T: Oh yeah, I love DIIV, they’re like my favourite band.
A: Oh, they’re amazing. I think whenever I play at home, and I’m like, “Oh, this is cool, but now for Towns,” it actually goes the other way where it becomes way softer, and it goes a little more dreamy. So I don’t know. Dan definitely brings out the punk in me, but I think it would go softer without him from experience.
T: There’s one track on the EP that I almost kind of got a DIIV vibe from.
A: Oh really? The first EP or the second one?
T: The latest EP.
A: That’s cool! Because if it’s the song I’m thinking of, we wrote that song a long time ago when Towns very much wanted to be almost Horror My Friend in a sense with a little more pop, so it’s very cool to hear you say that.
Which one is it? Is it ‘Take It As You May’?
T: I think it’s ‘Take It As You May’, yeah. And it kind of reminded me of Hyperview a little bit, Title Fight.
A: Oh man, one of my favourite albums. I’ve got it tattooed on my shin.
T: I’ve got it tattooed as well!
A: What the fuck! That’s sick! Dan has it too, and so does Bernie from Colourblind, which is funny.
T: That’s so wild!
A: Yeah, Hyperview is what we would sound like. I would love to sound like that. But I also think that Dan and I create a cool sound on our own. But if we ever separated, I would probably sound like Hyperview.
You kind of answered this a little bit already, but which artist or songwriter do you think has influenced your songwriting and guitar playing the most? I know you mentioned Sonic Youth, but anyone else?
T: I think that there’s little points where my guitar playing changed. Like when I was really young, like year 8, I just loved Green Day and Blink-182, and I was just doing pop-punk kind of stuff, which I still loved, but then I got heaps into Nirvana and Sonic Youth. And my favourite thing about that is that I had lots of friends who loved Pearl Jam and Jimi Hendrix, that kind of stuff, but I hated guitar solos where people just kind of shredded for ages, and I always thought that it didn’t actually do anything for the song, it was just someone going “Check out how good I am at guitar”. And I hated that.
T: So I love that with Sonic Youth and Nirvana and stuff like that, where in those moments where other people would play a solo, they would just not do anything, they’d just make noise and move their hand up and down the fretboard or get a drumstick and just make crazy noise with the guitar. And I was just like, “That’s sick”. And then, I honestly reckon when Title Fight put out Hyperview, that got me heaps more into that ambient, shoegaze, dream-pop stuff. And then DIIV, My Bloody Valentine and stuff like that.
A: I feel like that’s the thing. Obviously, when you hear Horror My Friend, it has that Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine influence, but what’s been cool about your band is you have the textures of those bands, but vocally it’s so much more aggressive and fun and playful, which I think is the cool combo that you guys bring.
T: Oh, thanks.
A: Pearl Jam and stuff were never for me growing up, either. I remember my step-father at the time was like, “Oh, you’ve got to get into Pearl Jam and The Doors and Jimi Hendrix,” but I just didn’t care, I didn’t care about being good at guitar. I want it to sound cool.
T: That’s the thing that I never got, hey? It’s like, sure, these people are really good - and it’s the same thing as with my guitar teacher from school - but I just like bands who are more about the song than they are about the technicality.
A: Hundred per cent agree.
T: Alright, final question. You and Dan have both, have had really, really great hair. I wanted to know what your secret is, and do you two chat about it? Cause you both change your hairstyle often. So do you sit down and go, “I’m going to do this”, or do you talk about what you’re going to do next? Or is it like competitive, like one person changes their hairstyle and then the other goes, “Fucking Aston, I have to change this now”.
A: It’s so funny, this goes back to when we met. Cause when we met, I think I had probably similar length hair to what I have now, but it was at the point where I was getting really into bands like Superheaven, and I was like, “I want to grow my hair out, I want to have long, long hair”. We probably talked about it too much. It was a very big bonding point where Dan was like, “Oh, are you going to grow your hair out? I might grow my hair out too”. So we grew it out together, and even when we went to get it chopped for the first time, we went together because we thought it was such a big moment. I think we helped each other get more playful. Like I never would’ve coloured my hair, but Dan colouring their hair made me be like, “Well, I better colour my hair too, otherwise, I look like the boring one”. And then, even with haircuts, I think I got a fringe, and then Dan was like, “I want to try that”. So I think it’s like a push-and-pull thing where even the other day Dan was like, “How long are you going to be blonde for? Cause I want to be blonde”. And I was like, “Yeah, but we both had brown at the same time, so why is this weird?” and Dan was like, “Oh, good point”. So the hair thing, we actually talk about it a lot.
Actually, there was a big rift cause Dan used to cut my hair, so I’d be like, “I need a trim up”, and Dan would just hack at it and get it where they thought it was good. And then recently, in the last year actually, I started going to a hairdresser. And Dan was like, “Hang on, what’s happened?” And I was like, “Look, it’s not you. It’s just another strain on our relationship, and maybe I need to outsource my hair game so we can just focus on music and hair and fashion doesn’t become another factor into things that could go wrong for us”.
T: Has that kind of resolved now?
A: Yeah, we’re pretty good now. It was a tough few months. But Dan has also found a hairdresser that they like. So we’re seeing other people, but still strong together at heart.
T: Cool, good to know. I remember when you put out I Don’t Mind, you both had like, the really long, dark hair.
A: Yeah, I will never go back to that, it was so annoying.
T: It looked good, though. I remember hearing that, and I was like, “This song is sick, AND they have really great hair”.
A: It’s fun to have long hair, and it looks cool while you’re playing. I think I just wanted cool photos of me with my hair down. That’s all I wanted.
T: That was that time where every hardcore band started being a shoegaze band, so everyone just had long hair.
A: Everyone wanted a blurry photo of them playing in motion, black-and-white. I remember the days, but those days are gone, so I have short, blonde hair now. I think I’m actually getting my hair cut next week, so I might change the colour and style then, we’ll see. And then Dan can go blonde.
T: No one in our band has ever coloured their hair. Someone’s gotta do it.
A: You’ve gotta do it. You do it so that in ten years, you can go, “Yeah, I used to have my hair coloured”. That’s why I do anything.
'repaper' by Horror My Friend is out now. Listen below.
You can also stream or download TOWNS' new release 'things you might feel sometimes' here.