Entering the side door of Sydney’s Hopetoun Hotel, I smell a familiar odour. You can find it at many venues around town, but it’s prevalent here due to its eerie emptiness. It’s the smell of Rock. It could also be defined as the smell of stale sweat and beer, but that’s just not as romantic.
I’m here to interview the two front-girls of the Melbourne-based band, Modular Lounge before their gig tonight.
“What’s your favourite gig, and why?” I immediately ask.
After much pondering, Sophie finally answers saying, “It’s probably the Divinyls and Tegan & Sarah.”
Greer and Sophie Turner are wonderfully eloquent and relaxed. Perhaps it’s the dynamic of being siblings that keeps them at ease – kind of like a security blanket at arm’s reach.
And solidarity is what it’s about.
The two sisters have been the core members of Modular Lounge since its inception four years ago. Although line-up changes have differed (bass and drums currently being occupied by Benjamin Dartnell and Johnny F) they still remain the key to the band’s continuity.
“I think if we weren’t sisters, the band probably wouldn’t have lasted two years,” says Greer, the older of the two. “I think it keeps us, the band, together. We’ve had a lot of line up changes but it’s always been us two that have stuck together,”
“It’s only ’cause we can’t get rid of each other,” Sophie interjects.
So after a four-year span, various members changing and a new recording imminent, are they still the same band?
“The way we write songs has evolved quite a bit, it’s more refined,” says Greer. “When we started it was all about ‘playing rock,’ and now we’re more about writing nice melodies. Just writing more songs, not trying to make it this ‘cranky loud.’
“I think the songs we wrote at the beginning – and we were new to song writing – were simple. And they’re still simple. I mean our songs were always simple, but they will be different. A lot more poppy I think, rather than rockier.” says Greer.
“We’ve learnt a lot more about light and shade in music. We’re not hiding so much behind loud distortion,” adds Sophie
They put these elements down to pure experience. Garnering help from various sources like their managers at the Harbour Agency and members of stalwart indie band Magic Dirt, they’ve added to that valuable stockpile of knowledge.
They say that if it weren’t for the Harbour Agency picking them up after their first recording at Sydney’s Zen Studios, they probably wouldn’t be where they are today.
Dean Turner, the bass guitarist of Magic Dirt, helped on their songs for their 2007 release Nightwise, and the band embraced the Magic Dirt experience, hailing them as heroes and their “mentors in the shadows”.
The girls cited influences like Veruca Salt, PJ Harvey, The Strokes, The Shins and The Dandy Warhols and dismissed the usual comparisons with The Grates and Frente.
“People say, oh, they’re girls, so you sound like some well known girl band or a female-fronted group or something. So they’ll automatically compare you to that,” Greer explains.
“We’ve had some comparisons that are nothing like us, but made just due to the fact they have a female vocalist,” Sophie adds. “We’re flattered when someone compares us to some artist, even if we don’t really think it’s true.”
Asked about the relocation to Melbourne, the girls seem ambivalent at first.
“I think we left quite a few fans behind in Sydney, and we haven’t quite built that fan base up in Melbourne, so coming back here is like, ‘Oh, we’re coming back to where everyone knows who we are and people will come and see us play.’ Whereas it’s like starting all over again in Melbourne,” Greer explains.
Understandably, the girls love coming back to Sydney. After growing up in Hobart, they have spent a lot of time in Newtown, and they miss it.
“I love Newtown,” says Greer. “I spent the last few years of living in Sydney around Newtown and I just love King Street. You don’t have to leave the suburb if you don’t want to – there’s restaurants, clothes shops…”
“And great Thai,” Sophie adds.
“Yeah, Melbourne Thai doesn’t match up,” agrees Greer. “We wish we could just pick Newtown up and put it into Melbourne. Then Melbourne would be perfect.
“I love seeing people in Newtown walking their dogs and all those crazy, kooky people in such a concentrated area. I think that’s what makes Newtown. Melbourne’s great, really cool. There’s some great suburbs and some really good places to hang out. And it’s got a great culture. It’s taken a little while to adjust and feel at home. And I just love Newtown.”
Modular Lounge will be playing the Annandale Hotel on Sunday to add to the monstrous line-up of My Filthy Riot, a weekend-long rock filled event.
“The Annandale is a great place to play. We’ve always loved playing there and they’ve always been good to us there. The Rule boys are lovely,” says Greer.
The girls are known for their onstage antics, which include arguments, swearing and spitting of beer.
“We’ve tried all kinds of things, sometimes we throw out lollies, and other times we offer sexual favours. We flash our boobs occasionally if we’re feeling a little amorous,” Sophie offers.
“No, that’s not true,” Greer objects quickly.
“But I think people love our antics. We actually have arguments on stage sometimes. People seem to love it. It’s really funny, especially if we get nasty.
“I think people come to our shows because we never take ourselves too seriously and we always try and make things fun. We want to have fun and we want the audience to have fun.”
“They also like to see how many times Greer drinks beer between songs,” Sophie laughs.
“Sophie actually spat beer at me once on stage. She just took a mouthful and went all over me,” Greer shoots back.
“It was while we were playing and it just so happened that a backlight came up at the same time and this beer looked like a water feature. Cascading over Greer while she did her solo,” Sophie responds proudly.
And then there’s the matter of Sophie’s swearing, which apparently caused one venue to produce a contract forbidding her to swear on stage. It seemed to fail, as the first thing she said when getting behind the mic was, ‘How the f*** are ya?!'”
Catch Modular Lounge at 1pm on Sunday at the Annandale Hotel for My Filthy Riot. Modular Lounge’s album, Nightwise is currently available through usual outlets and the iTunes Music Store, and will be sold at the gig.
– By Ben Storey