Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever on the Protests and Releasing An Album During a Pandemic | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever on the Protests and Releasing An Album During a Pandemic

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Jun 05, 2020 Web Exclusive Photography by Nick Mckk Bookmark and Share

As protests ignited in Minneapolis and across the country after the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, due to aggressive police tactics (with white police officer Derek Chauvin now charged with second degree murder and three other officers also charged with aiding and abetting), Joe White and his bandmates in Melbourne, Australia five-piece Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever didn’t merely watch the ominous results on the news. Aside from that visceral but once removed footage of the protests that we’ve all seen from journalists and on social media, lead guitarist White and his fellow members were also sent first-hand photos from their manger for U.S. tours, who lives in Minneapolis.

“He was sending us photos of the police station in his neighborhood being burnt down. It’s harrowing stuff,” White tells Under the Radar. “And it hits closer to home when you know someone who’s there, and who feels the rage that is so warranted.”

In the days that followed, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever—one of Australia’s most celebrated young guitar rock bands—posted a statement on Twitter. In it, they acknowledged the safety they and fellow white males often take for granted, before calling for an overthrow of that unjust status quo.

Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever have released a new album, Sideways to New Italy, today via Sub Pop. The band features singer/songwriter/guitarists White, Tom Russo, and Fran Keaney, as well as bassist Joe Russo and drummer Marcel Tussie.

The album’s partial namesake, New Italy, is actually a village near New South Wales’ Northern Rivers, which is an area Tussie is from. A press release announcing the album described the town as “a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it pit-stop of a place with fewer than 200 residents,” and one that “was founded by Venetian immigrants in the late-1800s and now serves as something of a living monument to Italians’ contribution to Australia, with replica Roman statues dotted like souvenirs on the otherwise rural landscape.”

Sideways to New Italy is the band’s sophomore album and the follow-up to 2018’s debut album, Hope Downs, also released via Sub Pop. Hope Downs was our Album of the Week, one of our Top 100 Albums of 2018, and our #1 Debut Album of 2018.

Just ahead of the release of Sideways to New Italy, we spoke to White about how it feels to carry on with album promotion during such troubling times; the reason why the band decided not to push that release date back (unlike a number of artists hoping to wait out the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic before going on tour to promote their new LPs); why the band is compelled to speak out about controversial issues; and how America’s current racial reckoning is reverberating among marginalized communities in their native Australia.

Kyle Mullin (Under the Radar): What is the music scene like in Melbourne, and what does it offer you as musicians?

Joe White: It’s a healthy scene here. A great gig going culture. It forms a large part of Victoria’s economy. So much revolves around going to see live music in Melbourne. Not at the moment, obviously. But it has this really strong culture of going to see live music. And that comes through when you’re up and coming as a band, but even still when you’re established and playing shows, you want to make them as good as you can. That’s a healthy place to be, as a musician.

When you say: “So much revolves around going to see live music in Melbourne. Not at the moment, obviously”—it makes me wonder how you’re fairing, while trying to put out an album during a pandemic.

It feels pretty weird, as you’d expect. But there was no talk of postponing it. It’d feel strange to let it sit, when it could be out there. It’s a bit of a shame, of course. I don’t know though—it might be like pulling the bow back a bit. A buildup of anticipation. We might not get to do what we want for a while. I don’t want to play socially distanced gigs, for instance. Doesn’t really fit our vibe. [Laughs] So we might have to wait quite awhile to play again, and in the meantime that means working on putting out an EP or another recording of some sort. Because we have ideas we want to get out.

You seem to not only get ideas out in music, but also on social media. For instance: commenting quite pointedly on Twitter about police brutality in the U.S. and the ensuing protests.

Well, when you see what’s happening it’s hard to say silent. And for us, this issue is highlighting our own problems with indigenous Australians that are incarcerated. Their overrepresentation in prison. The deaths in custody that indigenous Australians have suffered, now and throughout our history. Many Australians are using this as a way to bring this issue to the forefront as well. And that’s always been important to us as a band. So it’s the right time to say something like that, to stop talking about the new record for a second and actually go into what’s going on.

Do you feel artists, or people with big platforms, have an obligation to speak out?

Uhm, no. I wouldn’t think any less of a band that might say nothing. I don’t look out for what people “should be doing.” That’s not up to me to worry about. We spoke about posting that message together, as a band. And we posted it. In terms of our white privilege, we’re fully aware of it, so the responsibility is there, for us.

Could you passion for this issue lead to Rolling Blackouts C.F. playing benefits for indigenous Australians, post-pandemic?

We’re discussing that at the moment. We’ve done charity shows on our own in the past. We realize that, while a lot of the time government and society undervalue the arts, it’s actually the arts that bring so much more awareness to these issues. And it’s the arts that bring revenue to those who need it. We want to keep being a part of that for sure.

Let’s close with some recommendations of aboriginal artists for our readers.

There’s a hip-hop artist called Briggs. He’s very outspoken, and has a great West Coast hip-hop sound. He also brings a lot of humor into his music as well. So yeah, be sure to listen to Briggs.

Under the Radar’s next print issue will feature more from our interview with Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, with a separate article focusing more on Sideways to New Italy.

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