Interview: Xavier RN14 March 2018
Yesterday afternoon, I had the great pleasure of interviewing Xavier Rubetski-Noonan, a 25-year-old musician from Sydney and Melbourne. He plays with Self Talk, Kelso (with Kelly-Dawn from Camp Cope, and Gab from Japanese Wallpaper), and with Triple J Unearthed’s Max Quinn.
We meet at The Reverence Hotel, a pub in Footscray that’s home to a bunch of local punk and emo acts, as well as the best nachos in the West, on 13 February. The place is dark, with a smattering of Americana décor, and a punk-rock playlist playing over the speakers. Except for a few bearded barhands buzzing about, at 3pm the pub is quiet, as if it’s just gotten out of bed.
Xavier, in contrast, is energetic. He arrives dressed in a Girlpool shirt, with a lick of hair styled up in a Tintin curl. His passion for music is clear and refreshing: he seems excited to talk about everything, from ‘Fur Elise’ to ‘Hampsterdance’, the death of the CD to imaginary band names, songwriting to friendship, emojis to Paddington 2. There’s even a fucking limerick!
You can catch Xavier playing with Self Talk at the Workers’ Club on 23 March, supporting Jeremy Neale, or at the Grace Darling on 29 March, supporting Split Feed. You can also follow his Twitter, @XavierRN.
ALEX: So first of all, you grew up in Sydney. What convinced you to move?
XAVIER: Um, well, where to start? I’d been playing in a band in Sydney called Dr. Spaceman, which I really loved, but we kicked out our drummer before we had another replacement drummer lined up. So that band was, like, on hiatus for a long time. At the same time, I was also playing with my friend Max [Quinn]. We’d played a lot in Sydney while he was living there, but then he moved here, so there was this fun period where he was living here, I was living there, but I was still in the band.
Whenever there would be shows that were kind of worth making the trip out here for, I’d come and visit, and jet in, jet out, play a fun show, have the best possible experience of Melbourne you could imagine, ’cause I didn’t have to deal with anything. Through doing that, gradually over time, I met a lot of nice people, and like, yeah, I just really felt more and more like this is where I wanted to be for a while.
How would you describe the community of musicians in Melbourne?
Well, it’s very broad, and I feel like I’m just kind of dipping my toe into the water. The people that I’ve come into contact with have mostly been really sweet, and very, very welcoming. I showed up here being the guitarist in a band that had played here, like, three times, but instantly I met with really supportive people and yeah, I just hope that I can help make the community a better place for everybody.
Hasn’t Max Quinn moved back to Sydney?
Yeah. That’s quite new news. We started recording immediately when we found out that he was definitely gonna be going, ’cause we’d been putting it off all year, obviously, just thinking we had all the time in the world. So we piled into his lounge room and put this little record together that we’re mixing now.
Cool, when’s that out?
I wish I could tell you, I don’t really know. When we’re both free enough. The weird thing and the interesting fun thing about this, is that it’s literally just been us two, which I’ve never really done with recording before, apart from stuff I recorded completely on my own in high school. It was just covers, and don’t look for it.
But like, because it’s just us two, it’s been incredible. It was such a fun experience not having to answer to anybody else, and being able to communicate ideas between the two of us so freely, and just being like, “Hey, you should do this,” and then suddenly it’s happening.
Because we decided to stick with that, there’s been no-one else to just give us a hand. At this point, we don’t want to just palm it off to somebody else to finish mixing or whatever, so, yeah. It’s just based on our schedules. It’s a little bit up in the air right now?
I understand you have a number of projects going at the moment! Can you list them off for me?
I’m also in a band called Kelso. I met Kelly very soon after I moved to Melbourne—Kelly from Camp Cope—she’s also from Sydney, and moved here a year or two before I did. Our friendship stemmed from just hanging out at gigs and not knowing too many other people, and she was really welcoming. We were at a show together and we were both talking about how we wanted to have a solo project, but we were both too, kinda, nervous to do it on our own? But we wanted to play all our own songs in front of people, and before long it was the two of us jammin’ out, and a couple months ago we added our friend Gab, who—
Yeah, that’s right, from Japanese Wallpaper, who just felt like a really good fit for the band, and who would help us flesh it out a little bit and push it into a few different new directions, hopefully. ‘Cause it was, like, her on guitar and vocals, me on guitar and vocals, and we were gonna play opening slots for a while, that kind of thing. But now, a little bit more diversity to the sound means that we would probably be able to do some different kinds of stuff. And I’m very excited about that.
It’s the newest of these bands that I’m playing in, and it is a bit different to the other projects that I’ve done in the past. Like, I’ve been playing in bands for most of my life, really. But generally speaking, they’ve all been like “Hey, look at me, check out this guitar solo” kinds of bands, in lots of different ways, but still a very attention-grabbing kind of power pop, punk, that kind of thing. Whereas with Kelso, it’s a little bit more atmospheric, and trying to create a mood, and [we’re] trying to explore some different tones and that kind of thing.
I saw you guys play for the first time a couple weeks ago, and I’d only seen your Bandcamp. And when we came here, I was like, “Holy shit, that’s Japanese Wallpaper.”
Yeah, we’ve been very bad with updating our online stuff. I think we’re getting together to do some recording pretty soon. So I imagine we’ll do a big overhaul, all that fun stuff. What a fun peek behind the curtain!
And then the other [band I’m in] is Self Talk, who are a band that—I think one of the first Max Quinn Melbourne shows we did, they were also playing, and I hadn’t listened to them before, but I really fell in love with them straight away. They’re a really cool band, I probably saw them play another two or three times, until eventually their guitar player needed some time off, and they were nice enough to ask me to fill in.
I’ve been lucky enough—they asked me to come and tour with them like mid-last year, and it was awesome. I hadn’t been on tour before, which was cool. Just got the chance to do that.
Was it everything you expected? Sex, drugs, rock and roll?
Oh, yeah. I mean, they put together a really nice tour, they looked after me really well. I’m sure if I wanted sex, drugs, they would be available to me! There was some rock and roll, though. There were some cool bands.
I should hope so! What’s a song that you adore playing live?
Ooh! God, I like that question. I think some of these Kelso songs are really, really fun to play live. If I were to pick a song, maybe ’cause I’ve just practiced it before this, the song that we’re probably gonna record next, called ‘Glitter’, which—I almost feel like we’re still writing it, but it’s got a cool structure, and a fun guitar part.
What’s a song you really would love to cover?
Right of the top of my head, I’ve been listening to Eilish Gilligan, who’s a friend of mine, but, I’ve been listening to her new song ‘S.M.F.Y’ probably 5 times a day since it came out, and in the back of my mind, ’cause it’s an electronic sort of song, I’ve been thinking about how to do a guitar-y cover of it. But it might just be me, and I might not upload it anywhere. It might just be for my own personal masturbatory satisfaction. And I’ll never tell Eilish about it, and I hope she doesn’t read this.
Have you seen any good movies lately?
Well, where to start… um, there’s this flick called Paddington 2.
[laughs] That felt like a bit of a leading question, I almost wanted to not go there. Yeah, Paddington 2. It’s good. It’s very sweet.
I was just reading that the director of Paddington 2, Paul King, has been put forward for a new Charlie and the Chocolate Factory remake. Something like that, and I feel like that’s a pretty damn good fit.
That one needs another remake.
I mean, no-one’s gonna watch the Johnny Depp one. The original is a classic, but if we’re remaking movies all the time, let’s just have a crack at that.
Charlie gets an iPhone?
Yeah! Well, actually, what would happen if Charlie and the Chocolate Factory happened now? I guess all those kids would be fine. It’s probably one of those timeless things, though. ‘Cause kids these days, they don’t pay attention. They still love candy.
Is candy still ‘in’? You’re a little younger than I am.
I’m not super into it.
I don’t eat that much candy, but I’ve never really had too much of a sweet tooth, so I don’t know. Next interview on your page, you can talk to a teen—
teens. [writes “teens” on notepad]
Did I forget to answer any of these questions?
No, no. I’m halfway through at the moment. Okay, so you have to pick one ‘desert island disc’. And you’re there for a year.
Can I look at my phone? You can write that I looked at my phone. [looks at his phone] I think a lot of the things my mind springs to immediately are things that I’ve already listened to as much as I would have if I was stuck on a desert island with it for a year. Like, my heart goes—do you know the band Hop Along?
Yes, I do!
Yeah, they have this incredible album. I mean, both of their albums are incredible, and their new one, I’m sure, is gonna be incredible as well. If I could get an advance copy on the desert island, I wouldn’t want to leave. “Send the boats away!” Yeah, I would go with Painted Shut.
I mean, that album encompasses a lot of real emotional shit that—it’s very much one of those records that’s tied to a particular kind of place and time. So I would be thinking so much about the house I was living in in Sydney, my housemates at the time, and the relationship I was getting out of, that kind of thing. And all that emotional shit would just rise up to the core, and I would have no way to deal with it on this desert island. But maybe, a little bit of a retreat is exactly what I need.
Yeah, yeah, you know. I don’t know if the album would help me get through it, necessarily, but it’d be a soothing balm from time to time. I’ll say that. Or, like, if somebody put an album out called How to Get Out of a Deserted Island, or How to Build a Boat out of Trees and Cardboard.
How about a desert island podcast?
There’s a really good podcast that I love a lot called Blank Check with Griffin & David. It’s a movie podcast. There are these two friends who host it: one of them is a comedian, one of them’s a film critic, and they go through the filmographies of different directors who have, at some stage in their career, experienced a whole bunch of success, and then been given a blank check to basically do whatever they want. So, like, M. Night Shyamalan, post–Sixth Sense. I already re-listen to that podcast enough, so that’s the same kind of bad answer, but it’s a really good show.
Do you listen to Song Exploder?
Yeah, yeah! Song Exploder is cool. I’d pick that if the episodes were longer. ‘Cause if I was stuck on a desert island, I’d want more. That’s probably one of the ones I listen to mostly when I’m familiar with or interested in the artist, and if it’s not—if it doesn’t grab me, I won’t stream it. But I’m so very busy. So much going on!
What are your 5 most recent emojis?
Ooh! No, I love this, this is good. I’ve got a love heart, just a big red love heart. Actually, I think these are all probably from the one post, ’cause there’s no variety. You can have a look. They’re all very wholesome. Three different kinds of love hearts, and two, like, humble, little smiling faces. Maybe those are the five most frequently used emojis, um, per capita.
It’s sort of exactly like mine.
Yeah, wow, we’re pretty much matching. You’ve got a sad face in there! I’m sorry about that. Is everything okay?
That’s okay, we don’t have to, like, go deep. I guess I’ve got a crying face as number 6. And the bear! Guess what that’s from.
The bear face, or the whole bear?
There’s a whole bear? It’s just the bear head.
They need a latte emoji. ‘Cause now, you only have the black coffee.
I drink my coffee black normally, so I hadn’t thought about it too much. But how often do you need to distinguish between “Do you want to go for a coffee” and “Do you wanna go for a coffee with milk in it”?
I’m not sure.
Maybe not in my personal life, but everyone’s different. There’s people all over the place. These things are for everyone. Emojis: the universal language.
So, tomorrow [Feb 14]… is a big day.
What’s your favourite love song?
It’s a really big question. It is Valentine’s Day tomorrow. What about, because their new album comes out in just a couple of days, I’m going to see them soon and I love them a lot, they favourited one of my tweets today: Ball Park Music, ‘Exactly How You Are’. Very new song, and it’s just wonderful. ‘Cause it’s not like, sexualised, really, it’s not even all that romantic, it’s just like very pure, and feels very sincere but without being too over the top, or putting on a lot of pressure.
The thing is with some love songs, it’s like, “You have to love me back,” if you’re the person in that song. And life doesn’t really work like that. I have trouble if I write songs that are like that, like, trying to not create an expectation. I don’t think there are any love songs about me, as far as I know, but if there were, I would find that very stressful.
Have you ever written one about anyone else?
I have this song called ‘Crushed’, that I played with Dr. Spaceman. It’s a pretty good song. When I wrote it, I was very upset, and I was very single, and I had a lot of tabs open on my computer, and I realised that among those tabs were the Tumblr pages of people I had dated, or had crushes on, or whatever, in the past, and like, they were all open at the same time. And I was just kind of looking at myself, and being like, “Uh, that’s not the best.” So, yeah, in that song, probably more so than any others, there’s one verse which is kind of about one person, and one verse which is kind of about another person. But, even then, I don’t know. It’s not my intention to disrupt anyone’s life by having them have to hear this thing I have to sing about them.
You can write love songs that aren’t about a specific person, they can just be like: “This is what my experience of having this crush is”. It doesn’t even have to be from your own personal experience, necessarily. It can just be like, “There once was a guy named… Bavier.”
You have to finish that.
My name’s really good for limericks, ’cause there are two words that rhyme. So they always follow about the same structure.
“There once was a man named Bavier,
Who was on his best behaviour.
He had a big crush,
But all in a rush,
He dropped it for his lord and saviour.”
There you go. There it is.
Find it on Unearthed!
So what influenced you towards getting into playing music in the first place?
I started playing piano when I was a little kid, ’cause my parents wanted me to do it. Actually, no! My older brother was already playing keyboard at school, and I would tag along to his little school keyboard things, and I would just try and figure it out with all the kids.
How was your ‘Ode to Joy’?
Pretty good, pretty good! I work in a store at the moment with pianos in it, and the amount of ‘Ode to Joy’—actually, mostly ‘Fur Elise’—that I hear on a day-to-day basis, just from people testing it out, I don’t know if I will ever think about those pieces of music the same way again. There are some people who have come into the store, and would come in and just play ‘Fur Elise’, you know—nee-nel-nee-nel-nee—and then they’ll stop, and they’ll be like “No, not this one,” and walk around to another keyboard—nee-nel-nee-nel-nee—”Ah, that’s slightly…” [laughs]
But before long, getting a bass guitar was leading me to pay more attention to music with guitars in it. I saw my friend Mikey—whom, we ended up playing in Dr. Spaceman together, many, many years later—but he was in a band when he was like, thirteen, in the Inner West School of Rock, in, Sydney. Like, it was around the time School of Rock, the movie, came out—and it wasn’t exactly like that, but there was some crossover.
It was basically like, you would go into a rehearsal studio, and there would be a tutor there who was
gonna help you figure out what it was like to be in a band, and give you skills that would help you be on stage, and would make you be okay with that kind of thing, and that’s where I learnt a lot of arranging, and working with other people, and what it’s like to be in a band.
Like, I’d kinda got the taste for it, and played with some interesting people, who were all teenagers at the time. But, yeah. Just wanted to keep that going after I stopped doing the School of Rock thing, still wanted to play in bands, and I met a lot of cool people in doing that, and that’s what carried me through everything I did in Sydney, and kind of everything I’m doing now, too. It’s funny to think about the impact that might have had.
Have you got any imaginary band names, to just like, throw out there?
Oh, dozens, dozens. Hundreds. I have a big list. Should I find it? It’s gonna be bad. You can have some of them if you want, if you wanna start a band or anything.
Thank you. I’ve been meaning to!
There’s gotta be something at the top of my mind—like The Spambots—I’m amazed that there’s no band called that. What if I just did a search on my twitter for, like, “band name”, ’cause I’m guaranteeing—
Go for it.
Okay, excellent. [laughs] I apologise to the readers. Oh, the most recent one is ‘Hug-of-War’, like ‘tug-of-war’, but ‘hug’. I think it’s a little too cute. Uh, a punk band called ‘Anarchist Skywalker’. Some of these are very bad. ‘Restless Greg Syndrome’, but I’d need to change my name to Greg. Um, ‘Mo and the Lawns’, like Mo the name, but I would also need to change my name to Mo.
I promise there are hundreds of them, I just can’t remember. Maybe I’ll follow up with a supplementary email. ‘Supplementary Email’, there you go. Check out our page on Bandcamp.
Do you have a record collection?
I do! I have a big CD collection, too, which is crazy, ’cause nobody does, and nobody uses them. I’m 25 years old, and I think when I was first getting interested in different types of music, CDs were still how people listened to music, and CD singles were still kind of a thing. [They were] probably not in their heyday, I’m sure CDs had a bigger time in their life than 2001.
But I think, in some sort of semi-compulsive way, starting to buy music meant that I had to continue buying music, and buying more shelves to put the music on, and then wanting to make those shelves look full, and putting more music on there, and that kinda thing.
What was the first album you bought?
I think the first one I bought with my own money was Gorillaz’ first album, the self-titled one. Which is a very cool, um—it makes me sound way cooler. I mean, probably weeks after that, I bought the full album of Hampsterdance, like—it was not like I had particularly good taste, I think [Gorillaz] was just the first one I got to. If I remember, Hampsterdance was flying off the shelves. It was very hard to get a copy, so I settled for Gorillaz. I needed to listen to music by some animated creatures.
It’s funny how ‘meme’ some of the music I was listening to—like, how much of a meme some of that is now. Like, I had Smash Mouth’s first three albums, I think. It’s been a fun journey following some—I mean, it’s not like Hampsterdance has always been one of my favourite bands. But it is funny to see stuff that you used to genuinely think was real music be commodified as a joke. There are places where the lines kind of blur between them anyway, and that’s kind of fun. I like being very silly, personally, and then also having serious music. And I think somewhere in there, there’s some similarity. I’m not saying I’m on the level of Smash Mouth or anything.
Yeah, so, I have a big, big, big music collection now, which is very unwieldy, and moving cities with it was—I culled some, and I was like, “Ah, this is gonna be a dream”, but I still have half of it sitting in boxes I don’t have anywhere to put.
What are your gems?
When I was a teenager, I won—well, I didn’t win, I came tenth. [laughs] You see how quickly I tried to turn that into a brag? I came tenth in this cover competition of a Rivers Cuomo, early Weezer song, as voted on by everyone, I think Rivers maybe heard it at one point. It was very roughly recorded in an attic, the first time I’d ever played drums maybe, a cover of his song ‘My Brain is Working Overtime’. And I won a signed CD copy of Alone 2: The Home Recordings of Rivers Cuomo, which is like, not a classic album, it’s a bargain bin album. I’ve seen it in plenty of bargain bins. But I really love it—and it’s signed, so that’s kind of a gem.
I’m a huge fan of Washington, I have all of her early EPs on CD, and they’re all signed. I dunno. It sounds sadder and sadder the more I think about it. Is there anything that’s worth any actual money? No. I have dozens, possibly hundreds, of Dr. Spaceman CDs, and they might be worth a lot one day.
We did 2 EPs, and only one of them on [CD], thank God. I really liked that band. I feel like more people should have listened to them. I do feel like that. But yeah, if there were more CDs kicking around, it would be upsetting.
But that’s every musician, every small indie artist, everyone you wanna talk to: I guarantee somewhere, whether it’s their warehouse, or under their bed, or someone else’s looking after it or whatever, there’s so many buried treasures, copies of classic records that are kicking around. But you kinda just have to cut your losses and move on: move to Melbourne, start new bands. I think Max Quinn has some vinyl that’s probably still sitting around.
What’s an album you played so much, you’re completely sick of it?
I remember when Tame Impala were coming up, thinking, like, “This band’s really cool, they’re doing like really cool revivalist sort of stuff”, like—I can’t talk about Tame Impala, ’cause every single person on the entire internet has talked about it. But I remember being impressed, and being like, “Aw, this is cool, I should buy this album so I can listen to it”, not predicting that, the next five, six, seven years, I would hear it every single time between bands at every gig I ever went to, and in every shop I would go into.
I was so impressed and besotted with them then, when they came out, and now I’m just like—I will never need to put on a Tame Impala record again for my whole life, ’cause I know I’m gonna be catered to by the outside world.
Which album was that?
Innerspeaker. I mean, I wasn’t cool enough to know them back before that, ’cause I know they had other projects and stuff. I mean, they’re all good albums, I really like them, but I just have no need to ever hit play. There’s tons of bands like that though.
I thought for a while that I’d gotten there with The Beatles, but it’s—no, they’re good. That’s my spicy take. Cool band! Good tunes. I don’t know, I don’t want to write anything off. Maybe it’s Hampsterdance.
I hate the term guilty pleasure, but have you got a guilty pleasure?
I hate it too! I think it’s good to have a diverse music, like, listening, and—yeah, I don’t know anyone. I’d never want to be made to feel guilty for anything I’m listening to, ’cause I think there’s worth to just about anything, except maybe like if they’re personally a scumbag or something. I think there’s no such thing as ‘cool music taste’, really. I think the way to have cool music taste is to be open and honest about the kind of stuff you’re actually enjoying. And if that’s, like—I was listening to Christina Aguilera on my way here. I think people are quite quick to bash pure pop music, although less so these days.
What do I listen to that I would be embarrassed to admit to the readers of your publication? I guess the real answer, the real truth, is: most people would not tell you how often it is they listen to their own music. Well, I mean, it’s not necessarily a myth, ’cause a lot of people have a lot of trouble with it, and for different reasons it can cause a lot of like, stress, and dysphoria, or whatever. Like, if you don’t like the way you sound, or the way that you’ve been recorded. And maybe it’s a character defect of mine that I do enjoy it, but I don’t feel too guilty about it.
But generally also, after stuff has come out, not a lot of people are gonna tell you, but it gives you a really, really good feeling. Like, if you are creating music that is close to you, then being able to listen to it and be transported back to the time that you made it. It has the same effects as listening to other albums or music that you tie to a place or time. Except maybe more so, because maybe you slaved over it more.
It can obviously depend on subject matter, and you know, contents, and stuff like that. Some times it’ll be really stressful, or hard to listen to something that’s about a period of your life you’re not happy with. But yeah, I love it. Pump my own tunes. Get up those streaming numbers, you know.
Finally: what does making music mean to you?
I think it’s an incredible way to get to know people; to meet like-minded people and strengthen your relationships with them, and it’s—I think—basically an unparalleled sort of way of communicating. I think as a musician, and as a songwriter, there are ways that I can express myself through music that I don’t know how to do outside of that. There are ways that I can make myself feel, or that other people can make me feel, using instruments and equipment, and effects and production, and stuff like that, that I don’t know how to do with words, and I don’t know if it’s possible.
So, I think to me, making music is about using that sort of semi-mysterious power, to reach out to people and communicate my feelings and then also trying to find people who have similar feelings like that, um, and, I’m very hungry for attention all the time, and it’s very nice for that. There are a huge amount of like, really cool diverse voices out there, who I wouldn’t know about if it weren’t for music, and the ability for that to like, propel a voice into a new—uh, God, I nearly said the word ‘praxis’ and I wanted to kill myself. This is too long for a pull quote, anyway.
I mean, these are mostly arts students. They’re all well-read in the, uh, Marxist tradition.
Oh, well, then delete everything I said. Start again. [laughs] If they’re all well-read, I need to say smart stuff. “Hampsterdance is bad!”. Hampsterdance is good, guys. Check it out.
Okay, yeah. No further questions?
Yes, that was fantastic, thank you so much!
It was my pleasure.
No, it was mine. Hands off!
[This interview has been firmly condensed to a tidy 5,000 words, and edited for clarity.]