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Interview: Punk or Positive? Grenade Jumper Can Do Both

Image: Grenade Jumper | supplied

Sydney-based rockers Grenade Jumper will not be put in a box. Front-woman Bianca Davino discusses the plethora of music that inspires her, from pop to hardcore punk, as well as her band’s ethos to remain positive, even when the music scene, and the world, seems nothing but negative.

Firstly, could you just talk a bit about Grenade Jumper? How did you guys get together and how you have evolved over the years?

So we started the band in 2018 and it was just Max, Dean and I. Max is my boyfriend and over the course of our relationship we’ve always been talking about how we wanted to be in a band together and play music and really express ourselves that way and that’s how it all started for us. Dean, we knew through uni as well and it was a time where Max and I were kind of going to a lot of local shows and becoming friends with people in the local pop-punk and heavy music scenes and our goal was just to play one house show and release one song.

So, we got Dean on board and we recorded one song, practised a lot and then we got a show. We got Lucas (our bass player, who we also knew through uni), to come along and play and then after that we were kind of like “Oh, okay. Let’s try and do this fully” and since then we have taken it super seriously. Last year, we really had the opportunity to play a lot of shows and find ourselves.

Over the course of the year, every week was a new challenge for us because we were definitely getting thrown in with a group of bands who were all really good, knew who they wanted to be, had a distinct sound and were releasing this amazing music so it forced us to kind of level-up quickly and I think the product of that is coming out now.

It feels to me that it was really organic the way you guys came together. Would you say so?

Yeah, it was defiantly organic. When we started we were really amateur about it; for our our first song, we didn’t really work with a producer at all and now were slowly learning along the way and that’s kind of my favourite part about it. Even now that these two songs have come out - obviously we’re happy with the release and everything- I’ve noticed “Oh okay, this is what we did well this time around” and “How are we gonna not do what we did this round, for the next round?” But it is really organic, the way we’re learning throughout the process.

I noticed from your Instagram stories and posts that Grenade Jumper seem to really thrive in the live scene. Has COVID been really hard in this regard or has it made you more keen to go back to that place? How are you feeling about the live scene right now?

I think it was hard for us at first because we had such a great time playing live shows last year and live shows are really, as a band, where you find your feet. For a band in our scene as well, it’s where you make the connections with the audience, with the punters and with the community so we’ve found that it has been hard. I think another thing is that the live scene is where you make friends with other bands and build relationships and that was really our life last year and its hard to have that taken away. As lockdown started we had some really good shows lined up and we were kind of getting to the point where we were getting shows that were a little bigger and we were able to go interstate for the first time so it’s a bummer in that way.

But on the other hand, it was good because it gave us so much time to write and demo and record. We started recording the project that ‘The Power You Flaunted’ and ‘Breathe In’ came from in January and all of that recording went on through lockdown. Also during that time, we recorded three new singles which will come out next year and that was all born out of us being in lockdown, writing so much, listening to so much music and really focusing on who we want to be as a band and I don’t think we would have had that opportunity if we were doing it once a week or once every two weeks like we were last year.

So there is a positive that’s come out of it but it obviously still sucks. We do have two shows coming up though that were really excited for. I was thinking about it last night and (I know this is the case for every band right now) it’s hard not to think about how not playing shows for so long has stunted us as a live band. Like we’ve been practicing and everything but playing the show is where you learn. So, I feel that we’re not alone in that position where it might set you back progression-wise a little bit, but we’re doing all we can because we know that we didn’t want to slow down during this time at all.

And how have you and the band been going personally in COVID? How have you been keeping busy?

So I started working at Pedestrian.TV like two weeks before lockdown which was so lucky because I don’t think I would have found that job during COVID. So I’ve been working from home during this time which has been keeping me busy throughout the day. And also band stuff has kept us very busy because obviously we were recoding during lockdown and then we were like “Okay we need to work on the roll-out and promo for this release”, and then pretty much the day ‘Breathe In’ came out we went back into the studio. So, it’s been pretty much non-stop on the band front and for me personally.

Also I know Max has used this time to kick-off other parts of his career; he’s an aspiring producer and engineer so he’s been working with bands on different projects throughout this whole time. On the whole we’ve differently had our hands full with band stuff.

This two-track struck me as being highly emotive and very timely considering where we are in the world right now and you’ve mentioned before that the lyrics in ‘The Power You Flaunted’ represent a culmination of frustrated feelings towards leaders in the artistic and political spheres, and that ‘Breathe In’ has thematic ties to global standards of beauty. I was wondering if you could talk a bit more specifically on where the inspiration for those tracks came from?

For ‘The Power You Flaunted’, one of the things that originally inspired it (and something that I have wanted to write a song about for a while) was reflecting on what’s been happening over the last three years, not only in the music scene, but on a global scale with the ‘Me Too’ Movement. I think the way the movement really erupted in the music world was in the emo scene and the punk scene and that was hard for me because I saw all these people that I looked up to and I felt betrayed and I felt like this was kind of a loss of innocence for all of us who grew up worshipping this kind of music. It felt like we had been tricked into this façade by these people who we thought were these icons who could do no wrong but they are actually really terrible people who have inflicted pain and it actually made me cut myself away from that music. So the song was really about that sense of loss.

When it came to writing it, it was around when the bushfires were happening and it was the beginning of COVID and it just felt like we were in a really heated moment in the world so I thought that there was definitely a parallel between the loss and the sense of frustration with having your childhood hero’s fall and the truth about them revealed, and feeling like you didn’t have a political leader there who was going to help you during this time in the world.

And then there was ‘Breathe In’. That was like a life-long thought process that I think all women go through and I think, for me, it was exacerbated by being in a band. An example of an instance that would have inspired the song would be any time that I saw an Instagram story of us playing and I would literally get in my head and cry over it, thinking “Oh my God, what do I look like in this?”, And wondering if I was playing well. So it’s really about all of those moments adding up and feeling like you could be doing everything right but you still feel undermined because you’re not confident in your own skin which is a product of bad societal norms.

Despite the frustration and pain that inspired ‘Breathe In’, it still feels really uplifting to me lyrically. Was writing it a cathartic experience for you because it definitely comes across that way?

We’re just pretty positive people honestly; we’re not ones to wallow. Back when I had those feelings of being betrayed by emo music, what also really pushed me away from that scene was the unhopefulness of it all; the wallowing, the self-pity. None of us are like that as people and that’s not the kind of message we want to portray so even if were discussing something upsetting and hard like ‘Breathe In’, I wouldn’t want it to be wrapped in negativity. We are just positive people and we’re not here to do this to make people feel sh*t.

I’ve heard it mentioned that the band takes inspiration from artists like Deftones, Smashing Pumpkins, Lorde and The Strokes. We always like to hear where artists draw their unique sound from so I was wondering if you could pick maybe the top three bands, albums or songs that have inspired you or the band as a whole?

This is my favourite question ever. As a band, it’s so hard because we all love so much music; we are intense music nerds. We all grew up as full-on Anthony Fantano worshippers and Reddit Music scourers so we’re all very much immersed in the culture. But, we do have some “grail bands” that we look to, not just for their music but for their trajectory and their narrative as a band. Those would be Deftones, Smashing Pumpkins, Wolf Alice and The Cure. The vibe and aura of those bands is just so good and they are the foundation of our band. I just love how they meld all of their inspirations, without throwing them together in a mindless way; they really create an atmosphere and a mood that takes you somewhere and that’s what draws us to them.

Personally, I’m a massive pop fan (I have been my whole life) but over the last few years I’ve really singled-in on that and Sky Ferreira’s ‘Night Time, My Time’ is one of the most inspirational albums in my life. I just love the whole songwriting process behind it; the sound, the instrumentals are all so perfect. It’s her only album and it’s just amazing. Also at the moment, no one comes close to Phoebe Bridgers. She’s had such a big impact on me in the past year and her songwriting is second to none. I would say after them, I’m really inspired by 90s alt-rock and indie rock, like the world that Smashing Pumpkins came from. Anything like Sleater Kinney and Teenage Fanclub, I love so much.

And for the band as a whole, a big inspiration is Code Orange. They are a really heavy band so we’re obviously not drawn from them musically, but the way they portray themselves in their artwork and the fact that there is a consistent theme between literally every caption they post on Instagram and everything on their album is amazing. I love that you are taken into this world that they have created; it’s so immersive.

And finally, what’s next for you guys?

We’ve got two shows coming up which were really excited about so we will be able to celebrate this two-track release and bring it into a live setting. These two songs that have come out were initially part of a full EP but because of COVID, we ended up staggering the release of it but I think it worked out for the best because we formed a kind of two-part narrative. And then the next two songs work really well together too.

We’re not sure if they’ll come out as a two-track or as two singles, but that will happen at the beginning of next year and after that we’ve got three more singles coming out. We’ve just finished recording them and they’re super different; they’re a bit crazy. We went in with a new producer and he really opened our mind to some new stuff and I’m really excited for that. We’re also already talking about going back into the studio in May to hopefully record some more songs that hopefully get to be released as a full EP. That would be awesome.

We’re definitely also on the path to see where we can play more shows as things start to ease up.

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