The Cover Story

The Chats: “There’s a lot of people out there who can get f*cked”

Despite their name, The Chats are men of few words, letting their high-octane, scuzzed-up punk do the talking. On a sweltering summer’s day, we caught up with the Aussie beer lovers at their blistering K! Pit show to find a band resolutely not giving a shit, and loving it.

The Chats: “There’s a lot of people out there who can get f*cked”
Ian Winwood
Esmé Surfleet

Eamon Sandwith, vocalist and bassist with The Chats, is waiting for a friend to bring him some more drugs. Not hard drugs, you understand, but a small parcel of leafy flammable materials to help ease his passage through the working day. Here in Lower Clapton, an unheralded neighbourhood in London’s north-eastern quarter, the city is creaking beneath the strain of the hottest day of the year thus far. At 8pm sharp, The Chats will perform an excoriating 40-minute K! Pit set onstage – actually, not onstage; the venue doesn’t have a stage – at our favourite dive bar Blondies. In the meantime, in the swelter of the afternoon, with no recourse to secrecy or discretion 22-year-old Eamon has been smoking fragrant skunk. He’s smoked enough of it, in fact, that he’s clean run out.

“I don’t mind talking about drugs,” he says. “I’ll talk to people about that. It’s not something to be ashamed of.”

The Chats, who are from Brisbane, sometimes call joints of marijuana “doobs”. Lager is “piss”. In the chromium sunshine of the English capital, Eamon is wearing shorts, a T-shirt, and a denim waistcoat bearing a badge emblazoned with the words ‘I love beer’. During interviews, Josh Hardy, the group’s lightly tattooed guitarist, plays the role of the singer’s eager and friendly wingman. The pair’s delightful tendency to answer virtually any question that is asked of them is mitigated only slightly by a propensity to do so in no more than two sentences.

For example: Eamon’s response to a question as to whether drugs are difficult to come by in Australia begins a game of verbal ping-pong that is typical of many on-the-record conversations with The Chats. “It depends what you’re after, really,” he says. “Cocaine is too overpriced to even think about doing, but if you want to…”

“Meth is good, though,” interjects Josh.

Like a badly drilled rap group, in interviews Eamon and Josh interrupt each other constantly.

“Yeah, but no, you don’t want to do meth,” the singer reasons. “But if you want to get MDMA, you can get that.”

This is fun. Let’s try another one. What drugs won’t you take?

“I won’t do meth or heroin, but I’ll do the rest,” Eamon says.

“And not crack either,” Josh offers.

“Yeah, and not injecting,” says Eamon, picking up the beat. “I’m not into that. I mean, I just love, you know, acid and ’shrooms. I like MDMA and cocaine. And weed most of all. Weed’s the fucking best.”

Do The Chats take a lot of drugs?

By the standards of a group that shoots from the hip, the question is given serious consideration. “Um… no, no, we don’t,” is Eamon’s answer. “I have a good time every now and then, but beer and weed are good. I just like getting to the weekend and going round to Josh’s place and getting a box of beer and smoking some joints and having a good time. But we’re not big drug takers, really. We enjoy it, but it’s not like an all-time thing for us. We’re not like a huge drug band.”

This exchange is as good a prism as any through which to view The Chats. Whereas other young groups give at least some thought about how to best present themselves to the press, or how to talk up their music, or their originality, this week’s cover stars, according to their singer, ask only, “What are we doing this week?”

Last week, the trio – whose line-up is completed by drummer Matt Boggis – released the successor to their impressive debut LP, High Risk Behaviour, from 2020, a collection that appeared in the Top Five in Australia. In the northern hemisphere, the group’s momentum warranted a sold-out appearance in front of 2,000 people at the O2 Forum Kentish Town, in London. Now, braced to take a step or two, and surely more, further towards the limelight, The Chats have returned with an album titled – yes, really – GET FUCKED.

“I guess we just like to self-sabotage,” is how Josh explains the decision to grant a name to a record that cannot be spoken on the radio or television. Please note that he sounds as if the matter has never before occurred to him. “I don’t think we even really thought about it at the time,” he says. “I think we thought, ‘Well, you can either like it or you can get fucked.’”

“Exactly!” exclaims Eamon. “And there’s a lot of people out there who can get fucked.”

Or consider this. In an earlier incarnation of 6L GTR, the lead-off single from GET FUCKED, The Chats included a knowing nod to the classic rock song Panama, by Van Halen. ‘Nothing wrong with that,’ they thought, ‘no problem there.’ Wiser minds, employed in part to keep the band out of court, thought differently. The following quote is taken from the trio’s official press release.

“[Panama] has a breakdown bit, where it’s like, ‘Ooooh, we’re running a little bit hot tonight’, so I recorded myself doing that in the breakdown of our song,” Eamon explains. “But then our manager was like, ‘Errrr, we’re probably going to have to flag that.’ I’m like, ‘What do you mean? It’s just a little passage from a song.’ He was like, ‘I know, but we’re going to have to ask the songwriters’ – which included Van Halen singer David Lee Roth, obviously – ‘if it’s okay to use it.’ About a week later our manager got an email from David Lee Roth’s people that said, ‘No!’

“What a dog c**t.”

So there we have it. The Chats are more than happy to cheerily insult one of the 20th century’s most celebrated rock stars by calling him not just a c**t, but a dog c**t. This hilarious bout of sacrilege, you will note, came not as the result of a careless remark made to a journalist, or in a slip of the tongue during a backstage conversation, but in the group’s official press release.

Given all this, the notion that The Chats are the most honest and unguarded new band in rock’n’roll is hard to decry.

The success happened almost by accident after The Chats issued the early-day classic Smoko in the autumn of 2017. An ostensibly simple song about the right of the Australian working class to enjoy a cigarette break while on the job, within weeks the track and its hardscrabble video had been viewed by almost a quarter of a million people. ‘Mullet-Sporting Queensland Punk Band Goes Viral With Song About Smoko’, announced a headline on Music Feeds, while the New Zealand Herald enticed readers with the banner ‘I’m on smoko: Most Aussie song ever goes viral’. Speaking to NME Australia, Eamon declared that his band “are self aware – we know we’re not cool”. Maybe, but their unvarnished integrity, their pick-the-bones-out-of-that immediacy, was soon garnering supporters in notable places. A sold-out appearance at the Regent Theater in Los Angeles was witnessed by Dave Grohl, Josh Homme, and Arctic Monkeys' Alex Turner. Earlier that week, the group told their followers on Instagram that they’d been bending the elbow with Billie Joe Armstrong.

“I don’t think we want to be a big band or anything like that,” Eamon says. “We just want to play shows and have a laugh, you know?”

What would be your definition of success?

“For me it’s just being happy with what you’re doing,” he answers. “And making enough [money] to make a living, you know. That’s success to me.”

And do you make enough money to earn a living?

“Yeah, at the moment.”

“Success is just being happy with what you’re doing”

Eamon Sandwith

This seems likely to continue. By the time Kerrang! convenes with Eamon and Josh for a catch-up interview at the start of August, The Chats are fresh from a short campaign supporting The Strokes on the U.S. group’s Antipodean tour. Without much enthusiasm, Eamon describes the shows as being “okay” while mentioning that the headliners “didn’t want to talk to us”. The singer sounds even less enamoured of the New Yorkers saying “some shit [onstage], like, ‘Thanks to that band for playing with us.’ They didn’t even know the name of the band, or whatever.” Higher hopes are held for an Australian summer campaign supporting Guns N’ Roses in front of as many as 90,000 people at venues such as the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

“We’re like, ‘Yeah, why not?’” Eamon says. “When you get a fucking opportunity like that, why would you say no? And when I was a kid, I fucking loved Guns N’ Roses. They were my favourite band for a while, when I was like 12, you know what I mean? I had the Greatest Hits CD and I fucking thrashed it. So I’m just keen. It’s a great excuse to hang out and watch them play. I think it’ll be pretty fun… [even though] it’s kind of nerve-wracking [playing] to those kinds of crowds.”

The marriage of GN’R and their Brisbane-based support band isn’t as unlikely as it might at first appear. Despite their youth and their remarkable freshness, the lineage of The Chats can be traced directly back to such bare-knuckled-red-blooded Australian rock’n’roll bands as The Angels and Rose Tattoo. Fourteen years before Eamon Sandwith was born, the second track on Guns N’ Roses’ debut EP, Live ?!*@ Like A Suicide, from 1986, was a rambunctious cover version of the latter group’s already rambunctious Nice Boys.

This being said, beware the temptation, not to mention a tendency, to portray The Chats as one-dimensional caricatures whose songs about venereal diseases and the perils of buying drugs on the internet exist only for comic effect. In other words, beware of classism. Despite the pair at times doing a passable impression of Beavis and Butt-Head, there is great substance in the rejectionism and honesty writ large in Eamon and Josh’s songs. Correctly intuiting the deceptive slightness of the group’s lyrics, the description of Smoko by the Australian alternative radio station Triple J as ‘a perfectly put together punk song protesting the drudgery of dole queue angst, minimum wage life and workplace hierarchies’ is bang on the money. It makes sense that Alex Turner went to see The Chats in Los Angeles. It makes sense that the finest English lyricist of the 21st century appreciates the group’s songs. Beneath it all, theirs is an extraordinary examination of a life more ordinary.

“Because we kind of fell into this kind of thing, we never had the aspirations that bands do of being fucking big or whatever,” Eamon explains. “Like, I wanted to be in a band when I was a kid, but I didn’t want to be in a big band. People showing interest is amazing because it gives us freedom to do what we want. You’ve just got to take it day by day and not take it for granted. You’ve just got to roll with it.”

For all the intrigue and colour in the band’s music, for all its unexpected insights and vivid stories, in conversation The Chats are not much given to self-examination. For the most part, they're not much into answers that last longer than two sentences, either. By far the most intriguing moment of Kerrang!’s encounter with the group in London occurred in an otherwise deserted café in which, every 90 seconds or so, the air was pierced by the beep of a smoke alarm. Within five minutes, Eamon had become agitated. Standing up from his chair, he explained that he couldn’t concentrate; as if reasoning with himself, he then decided that he could.

Beep, went the noise.

“No, I’m sorry,” he said, “I can’t do [the interview] here.”

Weeks later, appearing on a computer screen from Brisbane, a question as to whether the singer lives with anxiety is met with a noticeable silence.

“I get anxiety as much as the next guy, I think,” he answers. Further questions about neurodiversity are batted away with the words “I don’t want to talk about that” and “I’m in a process of working through that stuff”.

In a way, it’s a miracle that The Chats are with us at all. In the wake of the unexpected success of Smoko, Eamon received an email from a promoter in the northern hemisphere proposing a tour of the UK and Europe. Rather than seizing the opportunity with six hands, the offer was declined. As Eamon explains, “It just seemed like such a wild idea to me that I wrote back and said, ‘Nah, I don’t think we’re ever going to play shows over there. Fuck off.’”

You said fuck off?

“Something like that,” he says. “I don’t remember, but [the promoter] always brings it up, because he books our shows [in the UK] now. He’s always telling me that I told him to fuck off, but I don’t remember that. I must have probably said that… But it just seemed too hard. It seemed like a bit of a hassle. A pain in the arse booking flights and that. At the time we had never played shows outside of where we were from, so we’d never even travelled interstate or anything. So as if we’d go to another fucking country, you know?”

“It just seemed like such a wild idea to play the UK”

Eamon Sandwith

But all good things come to those who wait. Four years on from this point blank refusal, the group are back in the United Kingdom for the third time. With London crazy from the heat, the trio’s chaotic set at Blondies easily qualifies as one of the wilder shows of the year. In here, it’s easy to imagine a concert in 2019 at which The Chats performed at the Spotted Cow pub in the mid-sized Queensland city of Toowoomba to ticket-holders who began climbing the walls and leaping over the bar to pour themselves free beers. Fittingly nonplussed, the pub’s owner pulled the plug on the band after only three songs. (“We were like, ‘Yeah, fair enough, this is pretty rowdy,’” Eamon remembers.)

Three years later, amid fetid heat of Lower Clapton, the action front of house for the Australians’ short but very sharp set is only a notch or two down the Richter scale. Those unable to find service at the bar are at liberty, should they choose, to find refreshment in the condensation clinging to the walls. An entanglement of sweat-streaked bodies writhes only inches from the face of Josh Hardy. During a short instrumental section of 6L GTR, Eamon Sandwith launches a globule of spit that lands with unintended accuracy on the arm of a spectator in the front row.

The next time the band come to London will be for an appearance at the O2 Academy Brixton that will see them play for an audience of as many as 5,000 people. Without changing their outlook, their ideals, their identity, or, possibly, even their clothes, the tide is turning in the favour of The Chats.

World, pick the bones out of that.

“Anyone that doesn’t like The Chats can get fucked,” says Josh.

At home in Brisbane, Eamon holds up a bottle of Castlemaine XXXX and burps loudly.

“Nah,” says the singer with quiet but evident satisfaction. “Everyone can get fucked. Full stop.”

GET FUCKED is out now via Bargain Bin Records

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