Current Issue #488

Dead Roo:
'It's nice to be busy again'

Emerald

While the impact of COVID-19 on theatres and music festivals is widely known, what happened to the presumably high risk area of sharehouse-based DIY music scenes? According to Dead Roo guitarist and The Gov barkeep Jason Katsaras, there’s been a lot of tea.

“Everything’s falling apart,” Katsaras sings on the band’s new single Nick of Time. As a musician who works in a live music pub, it’s a pretty accurate assessment of the last few months.

“It was pretty scary at first; everything was shutting down, and I was really worried about money,” he says of March restrictions that saw his employer The Governor Hindmarsh, like so many live venues, shut its doors. “It really hit home when Julia Jacklin, who we’re all fans of, was meant to be playing,” he says of the Blue Mountains songwriter who pre-emptively canned her 14 March show in that confusing final weekend between Prime Minister Scott Morrison announcing a mass gathering ban on Friday, and its start date the following Monday.

While Katsaras and drummer Hamish Gibson were able to access JobKeeper when their employers shut down, Dead Roo found themselves cancelling shows booked months down the track. “We actually had a tour planned pre-COVID where by about this time we’d be touring the country – Sydney, Wollongong, Brisbane, Melbourne, maybe another regional town. And at least one Melbourne show with Ricky Albeck and the Belair Line Band for this release, but obviously that’s all been canned.”

While not specifically addressed by Professor Nicola Spurrier or Steven Marshall, weirdly, it was clear the overlapping lineups and questionably-sterilised sharehouse practice spaces that have fostered many DIY music scenes would be another short-term casualty of COVID restrictions. Despite the setbacks, this week Nick of Time will be issued as part of a split 7” with the Belair Line Band, a group that shares close ties with Dead Roo beyond guitarist and vocalist Jessica Johns appearing in both lineups.

Emerald
Members of Dead Roo and Ricky Albeck and the Belair Line Band

“It felt obvious, just felt right,” he says of the joint release. “We’re all a big group of friends, all have a similar taste in music and similar outlook. We have the same expectations of enjoying and having fun with music, and writing things that we really like – a shared expectation of how fun and honest music can be. To do something together seemed obvious.”

Both bands will launch the single, a prelude to Dead Roo’s debut EP later in the year, with a 10 July show at Katsaras’ now-reopened work. While Dead Roo participated in streaming series Sunny Side Uploads, they’re evidently excited to return to a more recognisable form of live music.

“As things eased and pubs started opening again it seemed silly not to start practicing again, and it’s been really good,” he says. “I think we’re all pretty keen for stuff to start piping up again – I feel like I’ve had my fill of isolation. Obviously still being mindful of social distancing… but staying two square metres away from people is better than not seeing people at all.”

A breezy bit of guitar pop that evokes 80s acts like The Clean and Paul Kelly and The Messengers, and their more modern successors Twerps, The Ocean Party and B**** Prefect (groups often bundled under the half-joking genre label ‘dolewave’), a casual listener could be forgiven for thinking Nick of Time was written in response to the last few months of upheaval. The first ‘JobKeeper-wave’ single, perhaps?

“It’s actually one of the first ones we wrote, two to three years ago,” Katsaras explains. “It was such a fun, happy song, despite being a bit sad at the same time, that it’s remained a constant part of our live set.”

The timeliness, and timelessness, of the verses’ simple but bleak sentiment (“if you need me, I’ll be by the abyss”) perhaps reflects the rolling insecurity felt by many young Australians, for whom COVID-19 added yet another, particularly disconcerting layer of uncertainty to a time of under-employment, gig economy side hustles and a burning planet.

“When I wrote it was having trouble getting work,” Katsaras says. “I mean, I’m looking for work now too, but the main point of the song is to just trust that everything will be okay,” he says, veering into an unexpected moment of bashful earnestness.

“It’s a letter to myself to just chill out, and not get so anxious – it’s corny and cheesy, but very much about believing in a… positive… future.”

Or, at the very least, one where Adelaide bands can play gigs again.

Dead Roo and Ricky Albeck and the Belair Line Band
Friday 10 July
The Gov

Walter Marsh

Walter Marsh

Digital Editor
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Walter is a writer, editor and broadcaster living on Kaurna Country. His work has appeared in Rip It Up, Broadsheet, The Saturday Paper, The Guardian Australia, The Thousands, dB Magazine, Jetstar Magazine and Royal Auto. 

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