Dancing in Agony with Greenwave Beth

Dancing in Agony with Greenwave Beth

Greenwave Beth is the Sydney-based electro-pop duo of Charles Rushforth and Will Blackburn, who also play in indie-rock band Flowertruck. Their music captures what frontman Charles calls “a dance of agony”: that space where we move to the rhythm of our own anxieties and desires. Watching him perform, Rushforth seems to be quite literally in the throes of that dance, his body twisting and writhing to the beat of a drum machine.

The band’s latest EP, People in Agony, invites listeners to share in this dance. The four-track release features hypnotic drum and bass sequencing alongside Rushforth’s explosive vocals. On opener “Country,” surging synths give way to a frantic cry: “I can’t sleep through clenched teeth / not a boy anymore.” Moments later, on “Against Me,” Rushforth croons over pulsing beats, “Love’s a fight and we’ve spent our life on the ropes.” These restless deliberations on youth, love, and identity fill People in Agony with darkness, but also with the hope that we might learn to find some pleasure in these complicated states.

AdHoc spoke with Charles Rushforth about the new EP, his raucous performance style, and the Japanese “Mom and Dad” rock stars that look after him on tour. People in Agony is out now via Dinosaur City Records.

Greenwave Beth is a side project for you. What made you want to start it, and what are you doing with Greenwave that you aren’t able to do with Flowertruck?

Charles Rushforth: I suppose it’s funny calling Greenwave a side project—it definitely is one in terms of how much time it takes up, but it’s equally as important to me in terms of what I get to create with it. With Greenwave, I’m able to make music where I don’t feel hemmed in by the genre, whereas with Flowertruck I feel like I have to make a certain sound. Greenwave lets me work with other elements like violin or a choir quite easily, for example, and I know that won’t set anything off. I can play music that fluctuates between happier and sadder stuff, but it’s still got the same tone if that makes sense.

I’ve also noticed that you describe yourselves as a “musical risk”— what’s that about?

Yeah! It’s physically a musical risk, ‘cause we’ve got a lot of stuff cabled up and it doesn’t always work; stuff breaks and it’s really organic. It’s always funny to perform live, since we have a lot of energy and it can get kind of dangerous.

I remember being electrocuted at a house party once: I was standing in a pool of water in my socks, and this power board started freaking out because we were putting too much power through it. There were certain points on stage where I’d stand and get 50 volts going through my system. We didn’t stop; we just had to tailor that into the performance. I love that it’s always kind of risky, though—that feeling like you’re putting your life on the line every time you perform. 

I can definitely imagine that high energy; I saw a video of you guys performing for 4ZZZ. You’re rocking out so hard there.

Yeah (laughs)—that one was a bit like Flight of the Conchords. It was great; it was just very early in the day. And just like Flight of the Conchords, we definitely didn’t make a lot of great business decisions—we’ve played some strange, strange gigs. But I think at most of them, everyone sort of goes, “What the hell is that?”

Right; your performance makes you stick out, but in the best way possible. Can you talk a little more about where that performance style stems from?

I used to want to be an actor when I was a kid. That desire’s all but since left me, but I loved Klaus Kinski, that crazy Russian guy that Werner Herzog uses in all his movies. All his performances have this religious bent about getting toward the truth of one’s self through lies, and that has always been something that’s existed alongside my creativity. With Flowertruck— which is wholesome, organic—there’s still a sense of some strange, mutant thing there as well. That’s kind of what it looks like with Greenwave Beth, too.

That penchant for performance crops up in your music video for “Make Up,” too. I was especially struck by the art-pop/performance-art feel to it when I first watched it. How did that vision come together?

We all wanted to do something higher-budget, something with a bit more preparation behind it. We worked with a really good friend of mine and director from Perth, Rudy Zavanno. The original concept for it was Lars von Trier’s [and Jørgen Leth’s] The Perfect Human; Rudy shot a remake of it and I did the soundtrack, so we were both in that world at the time. So in one scene of the video, Will [Blackburn] is quoting Moby Dick; in another he’s saying lines from David Lynch’s Dune (laughs). It was very [physically] painful as well, but it was great.

“Make Up” is also on your new EP, People in Agony. Let’s get into that. What’s the title about?

On the one hand, it’s sort of how I feel. With Greenwave Beth, the person who I think I am is this sort of nihilistic dance monster, which isn’t who I really am at all. It’s also about the way that we try to fulfill our desires. I think the majority of people on this Earth pick desires that ultimately can’t fulfill them or evade them constantly. And that movement—it could be a dance of agony. I think the way a lot of people change their lives and the lives of others around them is through that rhythm.

A lot of your lyrics also seem to be exploring the anxieties of just being in your 20s. Could you talk a little more about that?

Yeah, there’s the stuff we have to deal with in terms of a coming of age with your own identity. [For me,] part of being a white Australian is realizing the historic blood we have on our hands, and how stupid the culturalist sensation is that comes with learning about your own nation. When you’re trying to visualize yourself and the space you’re living in on the map, it gets harder the older you get in terms of staying optimistic. But the relief for me comes in the form of music.

Would you say your music is a way for you to sort of bottle that experience into sound, then? Or to even reconcile those things?

Yeah, totally. But that’s the kicker: Sometimes you realize, “Can stuff always be reconciled so easily?” With Greenwave, I’m exploring that idea more and more: Things don’t always have to resolve. Some of the new stuff I’m working on, it’s a lot more open-ended.

You recently toured Japan. What was that like?

I’d been before with this other band I play in called the Wonders. We went on 16-date tour, all self-booked. There were a few empty rooms, but it was amazing. We were playing empty shopping malls and strange festivals on the island. The experience was so bizarre.

Going back with Greenwave, I wanted to do it again but with a smaller run of shows. It was just fantastic; I met some dedicated, beautiful musicians who I never would’ve discovered otherwise. There’s this great band called Happy Pets Day—they’re kind of like LCD Soundsystem, but from the Miami of Japan, Ōita. There’s a band called Sister Paul, as well— they’re kind of like the Velvet Underground, they’re in their 50s, and they’re like our Mom and Dad rockstars who always look after us when we’re there. I never thought I’d have a rock & roll Mom and Dad, let alone that they’d be Japanese. Shout out to Susumu and Mackii!

What do you want people to take away from this EP?

I’ve always wanted people to become aware of the motivating factors in our lives—they’re very numerous and strange and they take you to very weird places. That’s the look I see on people’s faces sometimes when I’m playing a gig at a strange location at a strange time—like, Who the fuck’s this guy, and what is he doing here, and how did he get here? I often like to see that reflected, if that makes sense. If I can make them wonder, Who the fuck am I? What am I doing here? What is this?—if I can flip those spaces just for a second—then that’s great.

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