Tyler Hubbard has the pedigree, but right now it’s all about the new chapter, which sees his second solo album imminent, writes Samuel J. Fell

[Originally published in CountryTown (online), March 2024]

Tyler Hubbard throws a mean cornhole. I see him play, with a couple of rowdy country music radio DJs after their interview, as I sit in the media area backstage at last weekend’s CMC Rocks, waiting to interview him myself. Hubbard is insouciant, almost bashful about it, but he lands those bags right where they need to be, much to the delight of the DJs and assorted media types milling about. 

He’s also, for one of the more successful artists in modern country music, extremely humble. He comes across as entirely unpretentious, more than happy to talk, grateful for the interest. As if he needs to be grateful – the interest is genuine, and well-placed; as one half of Florida Georgia Line, along with Brian Kelley, the pair over their career together amassed 19 #1 singles, more than 17 billion streams globally, and have sold close to five million albums. These are immense numbers by anyone’s standards, made all the more stark by the fact the duo decided to put their hit-making antics on hiatus, back in 2021.

And so, Tyler Hubbard, over the past three years, has added another quiver to his bow – one half of an incredibly successful country music / hybrid duo; ace cornholer; and now, country solo artist. He hit the ground running, last year releasing his eponymous solo debut, a record which did extremely well (over one billion streams), and it was an exercise he enjoyed so much, next month will see him already releasing a follow-up, the second full-length album under his own name, Strong

“I love to write songs and I write a lot every year, so it was nice to be able to pull from the pile and say, yeah, let’s go ahead and put out another album and continue to kinda feed the fans,” he smiles, adding, “it seemed like they were wantin’ more, so we were able to do that. I like the pace of an album a year – I don’t know if I’ll do it every year, but it feels nice right now, and you know, it’s a pace I think I could sustain, at least for a little while. Keep the fans [happy]… give ‘em what they want,” he laughs again.

Of the transition from duo to solo (albeit with a band behind him), Hubbard says the transition has been fairly seamless and that he’s, “really enjoying this new season, a new challenge, and kinda getting to rebuild, it’s been a lot of fun. I’ve settled in nicely, kinda found my rhythm, having a lot of fun with it… getting to connect with the fans on a more personal level now, and just having some individuality, it’s been nice.”

One thing that rings true for both his musical endeavours thus far, is the songwriting itself. At the core of what he’s always done, is the writing, the songs forming the foundation from which he’s been able to build, whether with a partner or not. “[Yeah], I think fundamentally, it’s all about the songs, I’ve always put a lot of value in the songs, and I’d say that’s the foundation of anything,” he acknowledges. “So I’d say, just continue that motto over to my solo career, trying to write the best songs I can and put out the best quality music that I can put out, and see where it takes me.”

Of course, Hubbard has, coming into the solo realm, the benefit of his past upon which to build – he already had a dedicated fanbase, to say the least, a fanbase who would have been only too glad to turn their attentions to his solo endeavours once Florida Georgia Line decided to call a halt to proceedings. Having said that however, Hubbard is genuinely passionate about his current fanbase, and knows that despite his past, they won’t just take anything he dishes out. As such, it’s this fanbase, which made themselves known after the release of Tyler Hubbard last year, that have inspired Strong.

“[In terms of what’s inspired the songwriting on this album], I’d say a little bit of everything, life experience in general, but I’d say the majority of this album was inspired by the live show and just getting to know my fans last year for the first time, being out on tour and… starting to get to know my fanbase,” he smiles. “So I’d say the majority of the inspiration was pulled from them, really. Just the energy they gave me on tour last year, and like I say, most of these songs were written on the road, so literally just taking that energy the fans gave me and taking it back to the bus and writing this album.”

So how is this album different? How is Strong an evolution from Tyler Hubbard, despite the fact the two records appear barely a year apart from one another? “This album is different from the debut in a sense that the debut album was a kinda introduction to who I am I guess, an introduction to the world,” Hubbard explains.

“Whereas this [new] one is a little bit more settled in, a bit less about the fans getting to know me, just putting out good music that’s good to play. And of course, I do think the fans will get to know me probably even a little bit deeper… the first album laid the foundation for that, but this second one goes a little bit deeper and also it’s just a fun album that’s kinda made to play live.”

I venture then, that there’d have been quite a bit less pressure, from himself if nowhere else, when it came to making the record. “Yeah, maybe a bit less pressure,” he says thoughtfully. “I was confident in the songs I had written last year, and confident that the fans were there and were lovin’ what I was doing, and just felt all the support, and that helped relieve a lot of the pressure of making the album.”

And so this is Tyler Hubbard as he is today. He’s got his past, and it is indeed well documented. But he’s got his now, a time with which he’s most concerned, and with good reason – Strong is a hotly anticipated release, it sees Hubbard at the peak of his powers, riding the wave, the momentum, he’s created thus far. “You never know what life’s going to throw at you, as we’ve all learned over the last few years,” he smiles, “but yeah, I love writing songs… in a perfect world, I get to keep writing songs and making albums and playing shows and connecting with the fans, that’s my goal.”

That’s Tyler Hubbard’s future. And as for his past? “I don’t know man, it’s hard to say at this point,” he demurs when I ask if FGL are a chance of reuniting. “I’m havin’ a lot of fun doing the solo thing, I know [Brian’s] having a lot of fun doing the solo thing, so it’s hard to say, to be honest, but probably not anytime soon.”

Whatever happens, happens? “Exactly. Whatever happens, happens.”

Strong is available April 12 via EMI Nashville. 


Passion, love and a lack of fear defines The Black Crowes’ first album of original material in fifteen years – Rich Robinson details how it all came together, to Samuel J. Fell

[COVER STORY – Originally published in The Music (online), March 2024]

The record begins in what is now, after four decades, signature style – a searing, electric slide riff, equal parts rhythm & blues and rock ‘n’ roll, the rumbling vocal over the top instantly recognisable to those in the know. The song is ‘Bedside Manners’, and it kicks off Happiness Bastards, the first album of new material from The Black Crowes in fifteen years. 

A decade and a half is one hell of a long time between drinks, particularly when placed within the context of a forty year career (the band’s eight other studio records were released over a nineteen year period), but then, The Black Crowes have never followed any one prescribed path, the well-documented waxing and waning tensions between founding brothers Rich and Chris Robinson seeing the band wax and wane itself.

When the band split for the third time in 2015 then, many would have anticipated an eventual reunion given it’s what the band had done twice previously, but there were never any guarantees. It took, as Rich Robinson says, a coincidence and that crafty old devil, fate, to bring the pair back together in order to release an album they never knew would exist.

“The way we got back together was very synchronistic,” Robinson muses. “One of the songs on the record, ‘Wanting & Waiting’ was the first song I had for the record, and it was from before I even knew we were going to get back together, I just had this song. 

“I mentioned it to a mutual friend that Chris and I know, and I said that I’d love to hear Chris sing on this song, because it’s really suited to him. And [this guy] said, Chris said [a similar] thing to me, like, two days ago – I was like, that’s cool, but you move on… then I was in New York, and he was in New York, and so we talked and… it flowed, there was nothing forced, there was no agenda, and I know it may sound sappy or weird, but the universe kinda brought us back together in a very gentle way.”

This was in 2019, and the band essentially picked up where it left off: they toured extensively for the 30th anniversary of debut Shake Your Money Maker (1990), ground to a halt with the rest of the world through the pandemic, went back out on tour releasing a live record and an EP of covers, writing all the while, and it was from this ‘gentle’ way of being, that the band built itself back up. “[It was] really cool, really positive, really mellow,” Robinson says of the time. And it was from this time then, that Happiness Bastards grew.

And it grew slowly, organically, without agenda or stipulation, helped in large part by the time the pair had to themselves while the pandemic raged, unchecked, about us all. “[When the pandemic happened], it was like someone just plopped down a year and a half on your lap, and you’re like, ‘Oh shit! The world just shut down, that’s weird’, so the writing wasn’t for any purpose, which is what I like about it,” Robinson says. 

“It was like, fuck, OK, we have a year and a half, I’m just gonna start writing and sending stuff, Chris was like, yeah, just do it.

“So there was no stress, there was no deadline, I had a studio in my house with all the instruments so I just built all these demos and I’d send them to Chris to sing on, and it was just a really cool thing. And everything was done with that same sense – nothing was off the table… I was just doing what I do, I’m not trying to write this kind of song or that kind of song, they just kinda come and they dictate where the record is gonna go. So the core of the record came from that spirit, you know?”

The resulting Happiness Bastards is a quintessential Black Crowes record – a multi-limbed rock ‘n’ roll beast quite obviously informed by the blues and the grooves that permeated through that ancient genre, equally at home chugging along or reigning things back in, introspective and pithy. It is, as Robinson is quick to point out, a very cohesive unit, despite the peaks and troughs that define the album’s ten tracks. “Chris and I have always had ideas and concepts as to what kind of record we make,” he explains.

Southern Harmony (1992) was a live record, we went in and made it in eight days, done, a lot of those songs were one take. Amorica (1994) was different; we wanted to make a studio album, a studio sounding record. But the interesting thing is, there’s always been… a journey on all of these records, but they always did maintain, whether they were commercial or not, there always was a cohesion, because all these things filtered through Chris and I. 

“So by the time we got to this record, there are elements of Shake Your Money Maker and Southern Harmony on this record, there is a cohesion to it. There’s still a journey, there’s still a trip you take, like from ‘Bedside Manners’, you go to a song like ‘Bleed It Dry’, or ‘Follow The Moon’, and then there’s a punk rock kinda song in ‘Flesh Wound’, and then you have this, [and that] and all these things, but it is a Black Crowes record – ultimately, that’s what it is, man, there’s a thread that runs through the whole thing and that’s what makes it that.”

In the accompanying press material for the album, Chris Robinson opines that Happiness Bastards is the band’s love letter to rock ‘n’ roll, something brother Rich agrees with emphatically, adding that for him, the record is one that exudes passion, like after fifteen years, he’s fallen in love with making Black Crowes music once more. “[Oh yeah], one of the feelings I get from this record is that there’s a passion behind it, there’s rock ‘n’ roll behind it,” he smiles.

“I loved Chris’s explanation that it’s a love letter to rock ‘n’ roll music, and it really kind of is,” he goes on. “Rock ‘n’ roll to me is and has always been the broadest of genres, you know – in the day, you had the Stones and Zeppelin, but Joni Mitchell was rock ‘n’ roll, so was Neil Young and Bob Dylan and Sly Stone and Joe Cocker, Bob Marley was rock ‘n’ roll and everyone kinda fit under this massive umbrella and there was a uniqueness to everyone, and the uniqueness was celebrated, instead of stamped out.”

Robinson goes on to bemoan the state of rock ‘n’ roll today as he sees it – “Man, I can’t even tell who the fuck is singing, there’s no uniqueness anymore” – which he cuts short with a self-conscious laugh before returning to the business at hand: rock ‘n’ roll as the Crowes are creating today.

In the creation of this particular piece of rock ‘n’ roll, there were more hands involved than just the brothers Robinson. The pair reunited with long-time bassist Sven Pipien, who features prominently on the album, as well as joining forces with renowned producer Jay Joyce, whose resume reads like the proverbial ‘Artists Anyone Would Like To Be Stranded On A Desert Island With’ – Patty Griffin, John Hiatt, Emmylou Harris, The Wallflowers, Amos Lee, Keith Urban, Zac Brown Band, Eric Church, you name it (he’s also played guitar for Iggy Pop, Crowded House, John Hiatt and Macy Gray, among others).

Both brothers are more than adept at working on the other side of the desk, having produced numerous other bands over the years along with their own side-projects, as well as having a hand in the production of many of The Black Crowes’ previous albums, but as Robinson explains, in this instance they were keen on having someone a bit further removed from the project than they were.

“Yeah, we knew enough to be like, we thought we should have someone come in and have, not a dispassionate view, but a 10,000 foot view without any baggage,” he reasons. “Someone who can come in and look at what we’re doing and be like, OK. So we made a decision, we need someone to come in and do this, so we were cool with it. And the minute we talked to Jay, I was like, I like this guy. And Chris and I agreed instantly on his energy, on his vibe, what he was talking about, just a really cool dude, and that was it.”

Where Joyce was invaluable to the band then, was in that 10,000 foot view – it’s worth mentioning again how long Rich and Chris Robinson had been working on these songs, and it’s a fair assumption to make that, when it came time to head into the studio, they’d have been having trouble seeing the wood from the trees, a common affliction affecting anyone involved in a creative endeavour.

A prime example was the song ‘Cross Your Fingers’, which begins with a slow and melodic acoustic guitar with Chris Robinson’s vocal riding rough over the top, before breaking down into a heavy, slow-nodding stoner rock-esque electric riff. “Yeah, when I wrote that, [it was all fine] and the chorus was the same but it wasn’t lifting,” Robinson says. 

“And so a producer like Jay can come in and say, well how about instead of trying to push it forward, we pull it back, and it lifted. And he did it in a way that I wouldn’t have thought of because that chorus kinda mellows and does this other thing, and I was like, wow, that’s fucking cool… so just those little things. And he knew when to push us, and when to not. And that is the hallmark of a great producer.”

Another who was involved in Happiness Bastards was multi-CMA and Grammy winning country artist Lainey Wilson, contributing vocals to the track ‘Wilted Rose’, one of the slower songs on the record and one which almost defies sonic description, crossing as it does seemingly multiple genres lines, all while retaining exactly the vibe required for its particular place within the track listing.

Wilson, who since recording her vocals for ‘Wilted Rose’ won Best Country Album at the 2024 Grammy Awards for her fourth record, Bell Bottom Country, came to be involved through the band’s connection with Darius Rucker, whose old band Hootie & The Blowfish they’d toured with before, prior to Rucker striking out solo and “going country”, as Robinson says with a laugh. “Darius would sing ‘She Talks To Angels’ (from Shake You Money Maker) every night during his set,” Robinson says, “he loved the song, he grew up loving the song. And he was like, [come and sing it with me] at the CMT Awards or something, and so we went and did it.”

“We’d never been to a country music awards, we never really crossed with the country world, we just did our own thing – but the outpouring of love for the song and for the band, it was a really amazing thing. And Lainey was there, and we met her and she was a sweetheart and her voice is so authentic and amazing, and we were like, this would be really cool for this song; it seems like her voice would really fit, the vibe of the whole thing.

“So we knew Jay had worked with her, he spoke really highly of her, and so we made it happen.”

The result sits like an oasis in the midst of Happiness Bastards’ otherwise ripping vibe, a well-placed piece of introspection on an album that fair throbs with energy, with passion, with rock ‘n’ roll and the love for same. It is, as Robinson sums up, a record which shows no fear, which given it’s been a decade and a half coming, is no mean feat. “We have had a tumultuous relationship throughout the years, but for whatever reason, when Chris and I would get into a room to write, we left all that bullshit behind,” he muses.

“And that’s why there was no fear involved; the one thing we both understood or knew or had so much respect for that we never fucked with it is, when we get into a room to write, we both have enough respect for each other and each other’s abilities, not to fuck around. “

“And so there were way more other things we would fight about and be stupid about,” he finishes with a laugh, “but writing songs we took very seriously. So there’s never been any fear in that sense. There’s something very free about it all. So I do think that added to the overall vibe of the record, you know what I mean?”

Happiness Bastards is available March 15 through Silver Arrow Records.


Laugh, cry, drink a beer – it doesn’t matter what the song makes you feel like doing, Lainey Wilson just wants it to make you feel, as she tells Samuel J. Fell

[First published on CountryTown (online), March 2024]

The past few months have been, for Louisiana-born Lainey Wilson, somewhat of a whirlwind. And not some run-of-the-mill whirlwind, but one of which country music dreams are made, reaping the type of recognition that, growing up in the tiny town of Baskin (population some 200 people) Wilson could only fantasise of. And, truth be told, she probably did.

Five CMA Awards (including Entertainer of the Year; Album of the Year; and Female Vocalist of the Year) last November, and just last month, a Grammy for Best Country Album for Bell Bottom Country, her fourth studio release and the one which has made such waves since it dropped in October 2022. “I feel like the last few years have just been a whirlwind,” she says with a smile, sitting backstage at last weekend’s CMC Rocks festival outside of Ipswich in south-east Queensland.

“[But] I’m trying to make sure I take a step back, try and zoom out and really pay attention to what’s happening and what’s going on, because you can get caught up and just go on from one thing to the next, from one win to the next, and before you know, that time has kinda passed you by. So I’m makin’ sure I’m present, as much as I possibly can.”

This is an attitude that has come to define Wilson, that of an artist who is intent upon remaining as grounded as possible, no matter the depths of success she and her music are able to plumb. Leaving home at a young age and relocating to Nashville, as so many young country singer-songwriting aspirants are want to do, Wilson came at it armed with little more than a guitar, a clutch of songs and a burning desire to succeed, building on the foundation she garnered growing up in Baskin as part of a tightknit family unit, which is something to this day she leans on, replies upon.

“Yeah, I am who I am because of the people and place that raised me,” he acknowledges. “Like, if I’m not Lainey the sister, Lainey the friend, Lainey the daughter, Lainey the dog momma, then I’m not Lainey the artist. 

“And thankfully, you know, even though I moved off and went to Nashville to go chase a dream, I did still stay close to my family because I take pride in where I come from and I’m proud of it and the work ethic they taught me – my daddy’s a farmer and my momma’s a teacher, they’ve busted their asses their entire life to have what they have, and they’re not just working for themselves, they’re working for me and my future family and they taught me that from the beginning.”

“And the truth is,” she says, leaning forward as if to truly drive home what she’s thinking, “these [awards] are all blessings and all gifts, and I accept them you know, because it’s nice to be recognised for your work, and also to be, like, voted on by your peers that you look up to. But at the end of the day, I’ve gotta make sure that I don’t let it define me as a person and as an artist. Because I think once you start doing it to win awards, you start doing it for the wrong reasons.”

The right reasons, for Wilson, are in the art of storytelling, of being able to “make people feel something, make ‘em wanna laugh, cry, drink a beer, you know?” she muses. “That’s the goal, just to make people feel something, and make them feel at home. The truth is, everybody wants to feel at home.”

“[So] I’m from a town of 200 people and we sit around and tell stories, the kind of stories that get better every time you hear ‘em,” she adds. “And that’s why I wanted to tell a story. So I’ve just gotta keep doing that, because it’s nice to have those awards on your shelf, but at the end of the day… I need to be proud of other things too.”

One reason for Wilson’s success of the past few years has been her ability to tell these stories through song, to tell stories that are, inherently, relatable. And this, in theory, is what is at the very heart of country music – a story through song that people, no matter their station in life, can feel and feel they themselves have lived, which is certainly no mean feat. “What I love about songwriting is just kinda puttin’ yourself in the shoes of whatever it is you’re writing about; it’s really therapeutic for me,” Wilson says on this, thinking carefully before answering.

“And I mean, it could be something I’m actually goin’ through, something my co-writer is experiencin’, or something I heard from a stranger, something at a meet and greet, or I was sittin’ at a bar and I heard somebody’s conversation, or it could fall out of the sky in the middle of the night. But yeah, when you can kinda put yourself into whatever it is, it takes you somewhere else.”

Bell Bottom Country is now almost a year and a half old (older for Wilson), and so I venture that she’d surely be working towards her next album, her next project, at the very least the next ‘batch of songs’ that could go anywhere, do anything, hopefully make people want to laugh, cry, drink a beer. “Always. Like, I feel like before Bell Bottom Country was even done, I was working on something else,” she laughs.

“But yes, I’m always working on stuff. I’m partial, because they’re my stories, they’re my babies, but I do feel like in the last few years, and even since Bell Bottom Country, I feel like I’m figuring out a little more about who I am, what I want to say, how I want to say it, and I feel more sure of myself, I feel like I’ve grown as a person, singer, songwriter, all of it, and I think you’ll be able to tell in this next batch of stuff.”

“And at the end of the day,” she says, smiling like she probably would have, years ago perhaps, while recording her first ‘batch of songs’ while the dream was still a dream, “I feel so strongly about the stuff that I’m currently working on… I told someone the other day, I said, if this never wins an award, I still feel like in my heart and soul that this is the best thing I’ve done. And that’s a good feelin’.”

LIVE: Knotfest Australia (Brisbane), 2024


RNA Showgrounds, Brisbane, May 24

by Samuel J. Fell 

[First published in Rolling Stone (online), March 2024]

I was somewhere out the back of Machinery Hill when the Jack Daniels began to take hold.

You know, to paraphrase.

But there were bats. 

Lots of bats. 

Swooping low, big wing-span bats; fruit bats, lodging in the Morton Bay Figs that shroud the edges of Brisbane’s RNA Showgrounds, an oval of Queensland-green grass surrounded by grandstands serving a time gone by, surviving (now, just) in the middle of that small wedge of prime real estate along Gregory Terrace and the start of the bare, concrete reach that becomes Lutwyche Road, booming low and slow out past the hospitals and the freeway on-ramps toward the outers; the hot and dreary suburbs, the fibro shacks on overgrown plots and brick veneer two-bedders fronting onto rumbling through-roads; Brisbane…

But the believers are under the bats. Out the back of Machinery Hill. Out the back off the green grass, on the concrete, pissing in the plastic piss-palaces and perusing the places – the food places, the merch places, looking for a place to sit amidst the constant-ness of it all. 

Early, it’s Speed; that’s a place. Constant. Hardcore. Angry but joyous, which defines most of the day, the third and final day of Knotfest, rumbling dirty up the east coast, not stopping hardly at all; no quarter asked, none given. Heavy metal; make your excuses at your own cost.

They thrash about in their own way and I, having traversed the covered carpark and the striped black and yellow tape and the chat and the ‘lemme check yr bag, bro’, ‘yeah, man’ dance, come out onto the terrace and immediately follow the music, and so I find Speed thrashing about in their own way, and it’s not my way, but man… it’s infectious as shit, and – for the first time all fucking day, and make no mistake it’s a long fucking day – I get someone else’s groove.

And so I hit my booted heel into the ground in time with the beat. 

And I start moving my head in time with someone’s beat

And this defines the day. The beat.

And the riff. The Beat and the Riff… this is heavy metal, no? Agree or not.

And, indeed, agree or not. This is also heavy metal, for, like politics or religion or any other shit on this goddamn glorious sphere upon which we all stomp, it’s all subjective; you dig it, or you don’t. But, in the instance of Knotfest 2024, we dig it or we don’t in the same space, about the same thing. ‘Metal’ is an umbrella term – you don’t have to dig it all, but at its core, we’re all here together.

And so we are in Brisbane on this sultry late-summer’s day. The sky hangs low like an elephant’s undercarriage, more often than not loosing a fine drizzle upon all us metal faithful, spending our Sunday in the sanctity of the beat and the riff and the Cathedral of Fuck You (“This is our church,” sings Elizabeth Hale of Halestorm later on, as they finish their set) where no one is left behind and we’re all one and together.

Metal crowds – the nicest and best of all musical crowds.

After Speed, on the right-hand-side stage, is Skindred from Newport in south Wales who delight in the drop… the long groove that then drops into the ‘headbanger’s delight’ – man, I did not (having not heard their music prior to this very weekend) expect this from this crew, but (again), I find someone else’s beat and I also find (quickly and effortlessly) how easily I can adapt to how they’re shaping metal and so I listen to vocalist Benji Webbe

(Cheeky motherfucker that he is – “Who needs a t-shirt?”, holding up a band t-shirt [crowd yells that they do], “Fuck you, sixty dollars once you’ve left.” Throws it back over his shoulder)

and, yes, this is (to some extent, at least) ‘My Jam’. Or his, or hers next to me, or anyone’s roaming about the grounds. I came into this day with a list of who I wanted to be in front of and Skindred weren’t on that list but they are now.

And I’m more than happy with that, and this, as was inevitable, is where the Jack Daniels comes into play. But, as we’re all in Sunday Sanctuary together, who gives a goddamn?

Escape The Fate step to the pulpit next up and begin with ‘Forgive Me’, a song which any self-respecting clergyman would denounce (as it contains the line, ‘I killed myself today’), but let’s be honest – how many men of the cloth are here today? Unless, by cloth, you mean some sort of black t-shirt with any number of slogans printed upon same…

[Examples of t-shirts spotted at Knotfest, 2024…

  • Kanye? Never Heard Of Her (with a picture of Lemmy) – Classic
  • I Like His Beard (he, next to her, wears a matching shirt saying, ‘I Like Her Butt’) – Fair play
  • My Beard, Your Boobs – Classy…
  • It’s A Slut Party Right Here – FFS, I almost wish I was in actual church…]

ETF, again, aren’t my tin of overly-priced booze, but you’ve gotta tip the hat where it’s due; new(ish) guitarist, Matti Hoffman is a monster across those six strings and when the band see fit to drop it all down to the tacks, the tacks, then it’s as good as most else I hear all day long.

Knotfest is set up in the same vein as CMC Rocks, or as Big Day Out used to run – two huge stages, side by side, one being used while the other is hurriedly prepped – crew scuttling about gantries and hauling cable like ants before a rain storm – the change between sets, then, effortless, hardly more than a handful of seconds all day long (and, on the odd occasion where there is a short delay, some wag in the booth presses play on the likes of Vengaboys’ ‘We Like To Party’, or Backstreet Boys’ ‘Everybody’) and so the morning lethargy burns off and we begin the run into the long, hard, flat afternoon moving from stage to stage, a whirlwind of guitars, thumping and churning and rolling about on the flat-trodden grass, slick underfoot as the drizzle carries on.

Thy Art Is Murder do exactly as you’d expect them to, razor-sharp, tight as a drum; Wage War simplify things somewhat, more four-to-the-floor thrash, punctuated, as they’ve been want to do in the past, by a solo acoustic number that fits well within the confines of the middle afternoon, Briton Bond’s voice careening back off the stands, filled with people sitting, watching, waiting.

Everyone is waiting.

Waiting for what? I don’t know and so lope off to find food, somewhere to sit myself, watch the bats, the people. I watch Asking Alexandria too, at least for a bit as their brand of metal – metalcore? Touches of industrial? Too much singing, not enough growling? – isn’t for me and so I wander through the market past the lockers, smoke a cigarette in the corner, flick it in the bin and head back onto the worn grass in the late afternoon as The HU come on stage, and this is wild shit.

Mongolian folk metal, if you can dig it, which most seem to be doing – their set is underpinned by an almost constant low and heavy drone, it (the music as a whole) seems to slowly emanate from the stage, slowly seeping out and out and through you until it hits brick up the back of the old stands and then rolls right back – the traditional throat singing enhances the drone and so it all seems to follow you, no matter where you’re lurking onsite…

Filling cracks and crevices.

They are fucking happy to be here, man, they raise their arms to the sky and growl their appreciation, which is hurled back ten-fold, indeed, and the use of the traditional morin khuur (a bass guitar / violin kind of combo, two strings, played with a bow) is of a level above even the next, and the next… sounds you’d reckon Dimebag Darrell would get excited about.

It’s getting dark around now. The bats, they’re out and they swoop low and look to settle but lift at the last second and then they’re gone, lost in the evening mist.

Halestorm bring an immense energy to proceedings, Hale vivacious and vicious all at once; strobing stage lights cut patterned lines through the falling rain, for quick nips of time brightening the dark corners, high in the stands down the back, booming up iridescent as the Riff comes in, all of it breaking down into a sludgy puddle that seems done and dried all too soon, but then one switches their attention to the left side stage and Lamb of God begin, and this is metal, the heaviest of metals, the most precise and yet rangy and fucked up metal of the day, frontman Randy Blythe a goddamn pinball of pent up aggressive energy…

He bounces and never stops, jumping off drum risers and fold-back speaker alike; he holds court, talks to the crowd, riles them up and pushes them back, pushes them around and the circle pit down the front churns and churns and those of us back a ways, about the base of the sound tower, nod our heads heavy in time with it all, and truth be told, this set is the first of the day that finishes far too soon, way too soon, they do finish though and the lights flash a dirty yellow and then it’s done.

Out the back, on the front terrace or in the alleys between stands or on the slick and hard concrete behind Machinery Hill, people are milling about and it’s blurry; time and space constantly warping… is it the drink? Maybe. The dull thud in heads that mutes the sound? Perhaps… people are still waiting.

I stop and lean against the wood outside the Cattleman’s Bar, take stock for a moment but fall into impromptu conversation with Dylan, who’s only got one shoe having lost the other in the LoG pit and so his sock is sodden but he couldn’t give less of a shit; he bums a few tally-hos and we talk about bands and the act of worshipping in the high church of heavy metal, which he seems fairly well attuned to, and then his phone rings and he hops off to find his mate. Hops off to continue waiting, like everyone else.

They’ve been waiting all day.

For Disturbed? Yes, for many. Disturbed have been doing what they’ve been doing for some thirty years – three decades of ‘The Sickness’, three decades of their nu-heavy hybrid that is, by now, tight as a new snare and so they Deliver. I observe from the side, from high up in one of the stands, from the back. I don’t like their music, I never have, but one cannot deny how fucking good they are at what they do – this is music done clinical; for many, when they’re done, it’s a devastation.

But, of course, it is now time. This is what people have been waiting for; people who’ve been wandering about all day taking in the Beat and the Riff but, really, waiting for the Beat and the Riff that they’ve known for decades, that they haven’t seen in the flesh since 2001…

And so it is then, that Pantera take the stage, and people push forward, eager faces lit large by the flashing strobes… and there they are, Rex on his goddamn bass and Zakk (you can never see his face, covered, head down, intense) and Charlie (metronomic, the Beat) and Phil, Phil, fuck I’ve missed you, brother…

And then the sound gives out.

They don’t know it through and so continue thrashing through ‘A New Level’ having a fucking ball, but us out in the dark are howling, screaming, trying to be heard (the drums and vocals are still alive) – ‘fix the fucking sound, man, the sound…’ Word gets to the band and so they stop and there’s a pause – the quietest period of the entire day – and then, a minute or so later, they’re back and so they begin again, ‘Mouth For War’, and they’re off.

To my mind, to my devastated mind, the sound never quite comes back to how it was though, Wylde’s guitar remains too low in the mix (you’ve gotta strain to hear it, strain…) but damn, man, Pantera after all this time – and they (Rex and Phil) have schooled Zakk and Charlie (pros, total pros, as you’d expect) and so the sound is Pantera – Vinnie and Dimebag loom large, each a face on Benante’s kick drums… For the fans, for the brotherhood, for the legacy, printed on t-shirts and posters and all over the fucking place, that’s what this tour is.

And they own it. They whip and howl through what is surely the shortest set of the day. It cannot be over… ‘Walk’, ‘Strength Beyond Strength’, ‘Fuckin’ Hostile’, vague memories of favourites swim through the murk later on… but it is over and we’re left standing on wet grass in the middle of an arena, Brisbane lit around us as the sound fades and finally, finally dies. The band hug on stage, they salute the faithful, and it’s done.

The bats have gone, and I imagine, as I trudge out with my brethren, that the flat-track concrete out the back of Machinery Hill is quiet now. Rain drips from the figs and the closer you get to the front gate, you can hear slow traffic out on the Terrace, the sound of real life.

My head thrums. With the Beat and the Riff. All together, some sort of sonic melange, a day’s worth of heavy shit, stuffed into my head. People sing as we walk through the carpark but the further away we get the more the crowd thins and the sound and the singing and the laughter die off and then I’m alone on a slick street somewhere in Brisbane, Knotfest behind me, but the Beat and the Riff living on.


One of the most influential metal bands in history, Pantera have risen from the ashes and are bringing their music back to life – as they play Australia for the first time in twenty-three years, bassist Rex Brown talks to Samuel J. Fell

[First published in Rolling Stone (online), March 2024]

It began in Arlington, Texas. Clad in spandex, teased hair, shrouded in the miasma that was the 1980s. It began as a channelling of youthful energy set to the music of the time, that over time, warped and buckled and was rebuilt into something so sonically brutal as to stand on its own as a bastion to heavy sound itself.

Pantera was its name, and as that decade wore on and morphed into the next, the four young men from the American south who comprised the band’s ranks, came to define a time and place and way of doing things that is still adhered to, and idolised, to this day. And this day is different, make no mistake. But it’s no less poignant, no less urgent, no less meaningful to the millions it’s bruised, the power of this music on display so vulgar.

But, of course, you know all this. You know of the band’s ingesting of more hard-biting musical influence, of the addition of a young vocalist from the steamy streets of New Orleans that began so gloriously to pervert their sound. You know of the warning shot, 1988’s Power Metal, and the ensuing full-on assault that began two years later via the now-seminal Cowboys From Hell. You know the band ran hard and fast through the ‘90s before imploding in the early 2000s, seemingly ending what was, for so many, the greatest period in heavy music since it began, likely never to be repeated.

You know that the heavy metal world was changed as a result.

Plenty has happened since the release of Pantera’s final record, 2001’s Reinventing The Steel, and not a lot of it good, but you know this too. Addiction and estrangement and death has permeated the ranks of one of the most influential heavy metal bands of our time, of all time, and yet, like the proverbial phoenix, the band has, almost inexplicably, risen once more. And it’s different, in human terms, but it’s the same, from a musical point of view, their signature groove-addled power thrash still very much alive. 

It’s been reported that, in the middle of 2022, long-time bassist Rex Brown and vocalist Philip Anselmo began talking about resurrecting the band in some form or another, but this isn’t true. According to Brown, the conversations began “way before that”, and when pressed on how they began, how they progressed, says, “I’m not gonna go there,” suggesting it wasn’t as easy as it perhaps sounds. “We’ll let you know in the book,” he adds, the hint of a smile playing on his lips.

Brown and Anselmo, in Australia for the first time since 2001, are the only remaining ‘original’ members of the band, touring today (and for the past year and a bit) with Zakk Wylde and Charlie Benante filling the immense shoes of founding brothers Vinnie and Darrell Abbott, both of whom have died since the band went on hiatus, in 2001, and then was scrapped two years later. It’s on the memory of the Abbott brothers that this reincarnation is founded, the band’s current tour leaning heavily on the ideas of legacy and brotherhood.

And so it is then that, finally, after twenty-three years, we see the band back on Australian shores – older? Yes. Wiser? Perhaps. But very much aware of the time that’s elapsed, the time spent away from their fans, and now, the opportunity to reconnect, to reintroduce themselves once more. “We were just young, spry bucks, you know, very thirsty, fuckin’ angry young men,” Brown smiles, thinking back. “And here we are, grateful and it’s just a privilege to be here. We’re different fellas to how we were back then.”

“I mean, it’s a dream,” he says, before adding with a laugh, “I told Philip yesterday, man, pinch me when this shit’s over.”

For Brown, being on stage under the Pantera banner once again isn’t anything to be taken lightly. It’s not a gimmick, a money-making exercise, something he’s involved with just for the hell of it. This is, for Brown, for Anselmo, no doubt for Wylde and Benante, and sure as hell for the band’s millions of fans, a very real thing – “Two of our beloved brothers that just aren’t here anymore man, that’s life, you know?” Browns says on the deaths of the Abbott brothers. “They’re just not with us man, that’s just fate, it’s the way the ball rolls, dude.”

“It’s just one of those things that is sacred to us, you know?” he goes on, insinuating that just because the original lineup isn’t present, it doesn’t mean the music stops; indeed, its somewhat of a homage. “This is not… this is no tribute band, you know, Philip and I get to play these songs of ours that we haven’t played in 23 years. And to be able to do that and connect with the enormity of what’s happened, is just extraordinarily fucking insane, you know?”

The pair who have been recruited to fill these hallowed spots long left vacant are, of course, not just anyone, session musicians plucked from obscurity; Wylde, as well as fronting the well-known Black Label Society, has played guitar with Ozzy Osbourne for decades, while Benante is the long-time drummer for thrash pioneers Anthrax – no one but the best to fuel the current incarnation of one of the more powerful bands in modern music. “These guys are kickin’ fuckin’ ass,” Brown asserts. “Hard shoes to fuckin’ fill, I’ll put it that way.”

“We knew, we knew who would fit and who wouldn’t,” he drawls. “We knew what the obstacles were in front of us, and we knew after… I’ll put it this way – Charlie and I came down in September before we played that [first] show in December (2022), and we have probably one hundred hours of tape of us playing every fucking Pantera song that I could remember.

“And so, you know, me and Charlie lockin’ in like that… the drummer and the bass player, that’s your foundation. So when Zakk came in, there were certain things we had to go over and over and over, to get tight. And today, this band is about as tight and about as badass as I fucking want. You know what I mean, and that’s all I’m gonna say on that.”

“Look, I’ll put it this way,” he adds a little later. “If it wasn’t tight, if it didn’t sound as close to, you know, I wouldn’t do it. That’s it. But man, this band is on fuckin’ fire, and I couldn’t be happier man, I just can’t explain that as much as I need to, I could not be happier.”

Another thing you know: unless you’re at a Pantera show, you’re not going to get that ‘feeling’. As Brown concurs, “You’re not gonna get that feeling off YouTube, you know, you have to experience it live.” And this is how it is now. The Abbott brothers are no longer here, this is a fact of life. But the music is. It’s still, in the hands of Pantera as it is today, as pure and jagged and real and raw as it ever was. “That’s the whole thing… there’ll be the chants before we go on for a big show and I’ll just go, ‘Hey boys, let’s just fuckin’ look at each other and fuckin’ jam’, that’s it. We all know these songs in and out, man. But you’ve gotta bring a rock ‘n’ roll element to it, you know what I’m saying? You can get it as tight as you want, but the thing that we were really good at back in the day, was impromptu kinda territory, and that’s where we’re kinda headed, you know?”

So it began in Arlington, Texas. It’s grown and prospered and withered but it’s never died. On the contrary. So where will it end? Will it end? Will the joy in playing this music that Brown and his brothers in sound are so easily finding, ever fade? Time, which has had its wicked way with us for so long, won’t stop, but then nothing is concrete, nothing is written in stone; indeed, this is something you don’t know. 

“You’ll see this band go and go and go and go,” Brown says. “There’ll be a bunch of new songs in the set in 2025, maybe even this year… I ain’t givin’ it away.” He won’t be drawn on specifics, and in truth, it doesn’t matter. Not right now.

“The set list we’re doing now, goddamn, it’s powerful, man,” he smiles. “And I hate tootin’ my own horn, dude, you know… we’re just happy to be here, man, it’s a privilege to be here, I’m honoured and I am grateful to be here, and that’s all I gotta say, man.”

(Feature image by Ashley Mar)

Trial By Fire… The hope and expectation weigh heavily on the faithful… It’s just a game…


In the heartland, the hot and dreary suburbs where the faithful worship, in fibro shacks on overgrown plots and brick veneer two-bedders fronting onto rumbling through-roads, this is where the pain is felt most keen.

The pain of two torturous years in which respite has been rare, with little to celebrate and even less to laud, the slow and steady demise of a behemoth writ large before our very eyes as the Brisbane of old has become the Brisbane as we see it now, this New Normal becoming so almost with warning which, when one stops to think, makes it even harder to bear.

And yet, as we numbly stumble towards the end of an interminably long summer, virus-ravaged and sodden underfoot as it was, it’s not without some semblance of Hope, that perhaps the ship can be righted and turned and, perhaps, sent shooting back in the other direction. At this time of year, as the humidity stubbornly sticks around like a housefly on raw meat, as trial matches are played and the Football becomes part of the Now conversation, as opposed to the Then or the Soon, there’s that Hope.

It also sticks around like the flies on meat, and in these early stages, one can only pray the meat doesn’t turn bad – because if so, then even the flies will depart and we’ll be left once again, with this New Normal; you want the Hope to remain, because the alternative isn’t pretty, and anyone who says otherwise is a fool.

And so we found ourselves last weekend then, wrapped in hope along with various lashings of maroon and gold, perched upon the couch as Brisbane ran out against an equally appalling side in the Cowboys, and for the first fifteen minutes, it seemed the Hope was paying off – an opening salvo in which heart and soul was poured into the game, quick thinking and deft movement abounding, a try inside five minutes or so, Brisbane as it was, rather than as it is.

However, this wasn’t to last. The New Normal was to where it then reverted, a litany of dropped ball and defensive blunders queering the deal for a team so loved and, more recently, so lamented.

The fact this was a trial match means little in the heat of battle – by its very nature, a game like this was never going to be stable, and yet all too familiar were the breaks in concentration, the drops, the misreads, the lack of communication. Marquee signings weren’t present, others were out under virus protocols, some were playing for their positions and so threw too much caution to the proverbial wind – all this aside, this was a team playing as it had done, not as it wanted and needed to. Not as the faithful wanted and needed it to.

For along with the hope, even more prevalent at the moment after two years of football most foul, is the expectation, and it’s been weighing heavily on all and sundry these long and hot months gone; new signings and promising youngsters promoted to the top ranks, a team which on paper, now, looks destined to compete, like there’s a spark there, a spark which will surely ignite, lifting Brisbane from the doldrums that have been its wallowing ground these years gone.

And so this expectation was there before a ball was kicked last Saturday evening – the lineup, announced as is custom the previous Tuesday, looking like some sort of solid unit capable of Taking Care of Business, and yet, as the minutes ticked by with an alarming rapidity, this same team which On Paper had seemed so formidable, folded like paper same and those of us still left (either at the ground or on the couch), slugged harder at whatever it was we had in our cups and told ourselves, with mounting volume (mounting, like the bitter taste in our collective mouths), that this was just a Trial, and so the result should not, under any circumstance, be read as gospel.

And yet it’s hard to read. To watch. To ingest and then ignore; something that’s happened and so move on with your life. For indeed, a trial game, but yet more of the same. The hope and the expectation, the whistle and the kick-off, the catch and the attacking defence, the first set and the kick on the fifth – how did the team go, either in attack or defence, how was the intensity of the tackling, how was the intent to move the ball?

Do they want it, or do they not want it?

It’s only a Game. But it’s real and alive and, in These Times, it Matters. There’s an expectation.

To those on the field, in the stands, on the couch. Slugging from their cups and whipping their own thighs (with rage or elation?). The slap of hand on the skin of your own leg reminding you of, perhaps, the inherent brutality of this Game, the thwack and slap of bone on bone and sweaty meat, the falling rain and rising humidity and when they stop moving, for but a few seconds as a scrum packs or a captain challenges, the steam rises from heads as grass-flecked warriors take a breath and turn their attention to the Next Play.

It’s just a Game.

And so it was just a trial, hardly the season proper, and indeed merely a game but out in the heartland, the hot and dreary suburbs where the faithful worship, the expectation is real. More real than it’s been in some time, rendering this result then as more of the same: not Good Enough. Hope is one thing, but expectation is another, and as it sits currently, it’s heavy and awkward and needs to be addressed, lovingly taken off our collective hands, caressed and fawned over and turned into a harsh and brilliant reality.

For this, we can only hope.

Languid Reflections On Another Beach, VOL3…

The mailbox is green, sun-faded and leaning slightly to the right. It sits off to the side of a rambling shrub in front of a nondescript chainlink fence by a crumbling bitumen road that leads to nowhere.

There aren’t any houses close by; there seems no reason why the box should even exist.

A little ways along is a large grassy lot with footpaths of flattened earth worn through the pale green, temporary home to a summer carnival, one which wound up last night, the gaudy lights turned off and the music silenced for another year. Behind the padlocked gate, and the archway which marked the entrance (cobbled together from old wooden pallets), are groups of misshapen men with inked arms taking apart the transient machinery, slowly in the mounting morning heat, small talk amongst themselves muted by the traffic along the coast road down towards the beach.

They murmur to one another before bending slowly to do something, straightening soon enough and exhaling, flicking spent cigarette ends into the heaping mound of rubbish that’s been collected from the previous night’s verve and piled into somewhat of a monument to what’s been happening behind this fence for the three months now gone – something temporary that serves a brief purpose and is then discarded and not thought of again.

The Ferris wheel, now still and dull, throws stippled shade as the sun slowly climbs.

The chainlink fence, topped with ragged barbed wire, runs straight and true alongside the dead-end road, fronting another lot (this one properly vacant), gate swung open, an old and faded sign that reads, Event Parking, lying at an odd angle under a tree. Glimmering white apartment buildings which line the heavily trafficked foreshore drive are visible rising above it all just across the bare dirt past the few cars still parked there, loose pieces of litter slowly bouncing like tumbleweeds across the dusty expanse.

There’s another apartment building off to the edge of this lot, old and crumbling, burnt light brown by the hovering sun, squatting broke and deprived in stark contrast to the statuesque highrises that reflect the sun back into your face. A faded name plate proclaims them to be the San Miguel Apartments; the four balconies are bare, save for the bottom right which sports an ice bucket on its ledge, emblazoned with the logo for Corona beer, a small and spiky cactus poking above its silvery rim the only piece of greenery visible in an otherwise brown and deadened façade.

Around the corner, along the baking avenue with the surf club and then the beach on the other side, sit fish and chip shops, a couple of cafes, an ice cream parlour and a small supermarket. At this time of year, the school holidays wound up the day before, there aren’t many people about, although it’s clear this strip, with its gleaming holiday towers and proximity to warm surf and golden sand, would have been heaving only days prior.

It’s an odd place – cookie-cutter neat out the front, hiding the drab and everyday mundane just a block back from it all, no real thought to anything other than convenience for those passing through, some place somewhere to Be, away from where they usually Are.

In the holiday gloam, the place seems forlorn and pale and so the drabness is more evident, like this place isn’t right, like it’s all fake and the white frontages are actually made of cardboard and are likely to come crashing down at any moment, caressed by even the most modest of breezes.

We walk through it and bring our own sunshine, for what is a place to Be, if not one with Them, even if it all might crumple around us?

The box’s number is 13. It sits at its angle, in front of the nondescript chainlink fence with its barbed wire crown by a crumbling bitumen road that leads to nowhere, its luck all but gone.

Languid Reflections On Another Beach, VOL2…

I’m sat at the wooden table in the loungeroom, sipping cold bottles of zero alcohol beer, listening to the waves crash on the beach down below, across the foreshore reserve, the sound that never stops.

The zero beer is a crutch, one designed to fill the gaps as I work through a period of abstinence. Eh, seems to be working.

Addy is almost asleep in the single room off the kitchen, while Claire is downstairs, visiting. Half the crew got in from Brisbane this evening, within the past hour or so, and so there’re catch ups happening but I prefer to be here for the time being, tapping away, trying to keep in time with the pounding surf although it changes constantly and so I’m always a beat behind.

There’s a dull ache in my right ear from being under water all afternoon.

It’s a small apartment, on the south-western edge of the fifth floor; a couple of bedrooms, bathroom, lounge/dining/kitchen. A deck bigger than the lounge but with only a single table to fill the space plus an air-con unit tucked into a corner like a squat little drone sent to think about what it’s just done wrong.

The place is tired, built back in the ‘70s or thereabouts, but primped up somewhat in order to look elegant perhaps, or maybe, given it’s nearing the end of a long, hot summer, serviceable. For our purposes it’s a palace, lit with mid-summer light, a literal stone’s throw from the beach, across the foreshore reserve, to the sound that never stops.

Down on the grass groups of people are still milling about, kicking footballs or playing cricket in the dull orange glow of the park lamps. Dinners by BBQs are finishing up, kids running in the dark playgrounds adjacent, adults since given up on reason and so onto the third glass, fourth stubbie, their laughter funnelled up high by the breeze off the channel, in from the deep water where the tankers glide from the east, parallel with the shore, before burning a hard left towards Brisbane and its bustling port at the mouth of the river.

Apartments by beaches are all the same, and if they differ it’s not by much. The same furniture, the same décor, the same embellishments designed to enhance that feeling of coastal chill (driftwood-framed mirrors above the faded wood table, prints of ubiquitous scenes from Any Beach, Anywhere – turquoise water and white sand, bathing suits on long bodies and yet more driftwood arranged in elegant repose).

There’s a company, somewhere in the world, that does a robust and constant trade in nothing but 30×30 white tiles.

People seem to have left the reserve now, and I wander out onto the balcony with my fake beer to look down over it all. It’s a Friday night, no doubt people are gearing up somewhere, but aside from the constantly crashing waves and the odd lowlife in a souped WRX slowly red-lining along the front avenue, there’s not a great deal happening now.

There’s suddenly laughter, raucous almost, and loud chatter coming from somewhere nearby but I can’t see it and so I suppose those engaged in the Friday Night Dance are hidden behind loping and leaning Pandanus, or around the bend in the road on the grass out the front of one of the ground floor flats just past the spot where the ice-cream guy parks his faded pink truck every morning before nine.

Someone next door is playing, quietly, some melancholy yet strangely sweet classical music, just a violin quite reedy and thin but the melody nicely formed, the sound undulating on the breeze almost, in equal measure, both hopeful and well aware that there’s nothing else, really, to do about it all…

2020: Savage Reflections On The Year The Clock Stopped…

This Foul Year of our Lord, 2020: the year something you can’t even see brought powerful men and governments to their knees and levelled the playing field in a manner only before seen in movies and books; fake and lit bright on a big screen and between the page, as far removed from reality as it’s possible to be.

This Pungent Year of our Lord, 2020: where the reality changed in such a way as to render the bare memory of it, even, akin to dust flying from a recently cleaned bookshelf; disrupted by something unseen and reduced to a brief cloud before settling elsewhere in a pattern unrecognizable from its original form.

This Turgid Year of our Lord, 2020: which saw the rise of a New One Percent, an assemblage not concerned about money (although, to be fair, it was required), but with time and space, place to ride out the tumultuous tempest that raged the globe over; not many had it, and those who did, revelled in what they’d forgotten they’d ever had, and how important it became.

Indeed, a silver lining, perhaps?

This Repulsive Year of our Lord, 2020: where silver linings were few and far between, as common as sense in the US presidential election, which is to say essentially non-existent; America, once a superpower, but now in particular just some place where dignity and democracy go to die, forced to face off against one another in what became a hideous game show, replete with flashing lights and clanging and slapping where everyone gets covered in metaphorical shit and the loser refuses to die.

This Obscene Year of our Lord, 2020: where death became all too common as demographics were designated High Risk and people died with, at first, an alarming regularity, and then with morbid repetition as ideologies and politics took the place of science and fact; and no one wins in that instance, not a single living thing.

And now we’re in Transit: last night the clock, which had all but stopped these twelve months now gone, ticked past midnight and a New Year began, and it’s nothing but symbolism (for, indeed, all is as it was yesterday), but perhaps the symbolic nature of the ending of That year, and the beginning of This one, is just what We need; a metaphorical Page Break which We can use to properly sever the past, if only for a moment, and begin again.

But Transit doesn’t last for long.

2020: Savage Reflections On Another Beach…

The kids next door started playing some old punk rock earlier, something kind of familiar but not quite. Probably it was the style that sparked some long dormant recognition, more so than the actual band, the song itself. Ian laughed and remarked on, essentially, how shit punk music was. How had it endured as a genre?

We didn’t know who was playing it (perhaps a solo dad, reliving his past), the house had been empty for days aside from the gang of builders who’d been installing railings on the three stories of back decking, up on the peak of the Tramican Street hill, overlooking Home Beach, down and facing east, the Pacific Ocean beyond it innumerable shades of blue stretching further than anyone could see.

I went out the front for a smoke at one point, the music had switched to Black Sabbath, and I looked over to see if I could see and it turned out it was a group of four or five kids, swigging beer and listening to music made far before their time, before my time, although they only played ‘Paranoid’ and the ‘Rat Salad’ instrumental before turning the music off and migrating inside.

I smelt BBQ, so I figured their dinner was done and so the punk rock party was over.

Down on Home Beach, visible through the dusky gums as the sun sinks on the other side of the island, and lit brighter than usual for the gloaming time due to the size of the moon, there’s some sort of event on, a professionally erected tee-pee sort of thing ringed with fairy lights, a couple of food trucks parked up against it on the soft sand.

They, whoever theyare, had begun putting it up yesterday, for a wedding was the prevailing thought up here on the Tramican hill, but Ian and Buff had walked past it with Piper earlier in the afternoon and it seemed more like a corporate Christmas party than a wedding.

Later on, as the Sabbath cranked up next door and intrigued by what could be happening down on the windy beach, Claire found a pair of binoculars on the side cabinet in the kitchen and trained them on the party far below. She couldn’t quite tell what was happening, but she reported one girl twirling on her own, then either “sitting down or vomiting” into the sand.

I asked for a look but by the time I’d put my drink down and brought the binoculars to my eyes, the girl in question had vanished, dragged back into the faux-tee-pee by a concerned friend, someone who didn’t care, or who wanted her to carry on.

The whole thing seem to have wrapped up by eight o’clock anyway.

We’d arrived on the island, swapping one beach for another, a couple of days prior to this, driving up from northern NSW, slowing to cross the border which was still restricted to parts of the state, veering off the freeway slightly south of Brisbane to head back east towards the coast where the barge pushes off from Cleveland and sluggishly makes its way through the green-blue waters of Moreton Bay.

Buff had mentioned that every beach has its own allure, every beach has its points of perfection and that’s’ the reason why you head to a beach, even if you live by one all year ‘round.

Home Beach, a long and slightly curving and deep set sandy run, the only dog beach on the island, has at present a natural lagoon cutting it in half longways, fed by the high tide which recedes and leaves this swathe of blue across white sand that gets quite deep in places and warms in the sun and so by late afternoon is like a bath, with shoals of bait fish swimming as one, leaping free as one, the late sun illuminating them bright and strong like some unseen giant hand is skipping handfuls of silver coins across rippled turquoise fabric.

We spend the afternoons there, Addy flapping about while Claire and I, knee-deep, toss my old football between us, laughing at the ridiculous things Addy says as she pretends to be a “rainbow fish”, a “sugar glider”, a “baby dolphin”, all within the same game which she tells us how to play as she plays it and the only thing we need to do is to be seen to be listening, even if we can’t hear her over the sound of the waves caressing the shore actual, across the way, and our own laughter.

One day not long before dinner we do the gorge walk, a short loop around the  North and South Headland Gorge at the southern end of Point Lookout, wooden walkways and stout steps and gravel paths, access out onto the rock above the action, the space lit dead-neon with Warning Signs but you can still get out there, above it all as the ocean storms about below, battering the base with gleaming white foam that sprays halfway up the face, the deep blue pulsating forever toward the gap and gushing faster as it’s restricted, eventually dying on the tiny patch of sand deep in shade far below at the narrow end that then changes into pandanus and scrub and the kangaroos sometimes venture down there to feed, if they’re done up top where the people are.

Addy is, at all times, a pirate and a fairy, a princess and a rainbow bird, sometimes a kitten or maybe a baby dinosaur. We feel that she may not actually know how to walk, her only states of being either asleep or in top gear. She rushes places other stroll, particularly me, and I wonder at times if we’re related at all. When I tell Claire this, she rolls her eyes and says simply, “Look at her, of course you’re related.”

Her wild red hair whips in the salty wind. My beard does the same.

Time slows down. Things centre around the beach, the couch, naps and food. As it gets a bit later, Ian opens a bottle of bubbles and I reef around in the fridge for a can of beer. Buff bustles around the kitchen, Claire in there too. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve stacked and unstacked the shitty dishwasher. Addy eats constantly, fruit and muesli bars and yoghurt and more fruit and toast. Since we’ve been here, I’ve read two books and maybe five newspapers.

This morning, our last full day on the island, we set out for the beach early, only to abort as Addy melted down about something (she’d not slept well the night before, she told us, even though we’d not heard her stir at all), so Claire heads beach-ward and I take Addy home where we eat more then come back down, but that’s aborted too when the tractors pulling full dive boats out from the dive centre onto the beach are too much for her to bear and so we head back to the house to read The Faraway Treeon the couch where it’s safe.

Claire, Buff, Ian and Piper arrive back from their own beach sojourn and so I head, solo, into Dunwich to buy the papers, some mushrooms for dinner, some panadol. I smoke a cigarette in solitude before driving the fifteen minutes north into town. I take my time. I buy what we need, more, three papers instead of two. I find a shady park and smoke another cigarette before slowly making my way back.

We lounge around, Addy entertaining herself. Buff and Ian go back to bed, Claire brings her book up from downstairs. I read one and a half newspapers in the chair with my feet on the small table, two cups of coffee, a piece of toast. This goes on and then we have lunch and quiet time is happening, Addy falls asleep almost straight away, Claire does too, and I read my book for almost two hours, on the couch upstairs with the hill breeze slowly wending its way through the permanently open swing doors off the deck, the lagoon brilliant blue down the way, the constant ocean sound part of why it’s all so perfect in its slow simplicity.

One beach for another. Tomorrow we’ll hop the barge back to the mainland and head back south, a quicker run on a Sunday night, back to our own beach. One beach for another.